The following record of my experiences during the Great War,
(1914-1918) were taken from extracts of letters written by
me to my Parents during my army service. It is entirely due
to the interest and patience of my Mother, who carefully
copied these extracts into a book as she received them, that
the diary was retained. It would have been impossible to
have written this account entirely from memory and to her I
tender my loving gratitude.
The negatives of the photographs were periodically sent to
my home from abroad but owing to enemy submarine activity,
some were submerged before arriving at their destination, in
consequence, a number of the photographs affixed herein are
discoloured and stained.
This book must only be regarded as a record of events, for I
have made not the slightest effort to ape literary ability.
I venture to hope that, in years to come, my Son may derive
a certain amount of interest from its contents which portray
the varied experiences of his Father, and which were written
up solely for his pleasure.
(The following text was written during the 1920' s. At this time the over use of comma's and
apostrophe' s was common practice thus you may find some of the book includes large
paragraphs of text with little or no full stops) .
This book was originally written by
Edited, restored and converted to digital format by
The author - James Racine - in his highlanders uniform
Enlistment in the 5 th Battalion of The Seaforth Highlanders
51 st Highland Division & Training at Bedford.
I was spending my annual leave under canvas with the
Guildford Congregational Y.M.C.A. and was sitting in my
tent, when the news reached the camp that Great Britain had
declared war upon Germany and her Allies. As I was a member
of the St John Ambulance Brigade, the next day I returned to
my office in Guildford and awaited further developments, for
it was possible that my services would be required.
Whilst I sat in my office, I heard cheers and shouts and,
looking outside, I saw many young fellows proceeding to the
recruiting office to enlist in the army. They were full of
enthusiasm and excitement and loudly singing and laughing.
That evening, I reported at the Police Station and was
enrolled as a Special Constable, being informed that my
duty would be to guard a certain railway bridge, at night,
against the possibility of its being blown up by enemy
I attended the office during the days and, throughout the
nights, my friends and I took turns at sentry duty at the
bridge. During the nights, train loads of troops and
transports passed through en route for foreign parts and
we all felt very thrilled.
My friend, Ernest Gyatt, and I had discussed offering
our services to the Army and we decided to
go to London the next day and enlist in a regiment. On
Saturday, 12th September 1914, we arrived in London,
strolled up Victoria Street, and found ourselves Buckingham
Gate, outside the London Scottish Head Mere; we were
informed that a certain number were required to complete the
strength of the 5th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders.
After a short conversation, my friend and I decided to offer
ourselves for service.
We were shown into the presence of the Medical Officer and,
after taking off our clothes, were subjected to a medical
examination and duly pronounced to be fit. Following the
signing of the usual attestation forms and taking the oath,
we were instructed to report again on Monday, in readiness
to proceed to the battalion for training.
After spending the weekend at Guildford, we again presented
ourselves at Buckingham Gate and, with other recruits (amid
the cheers of the civilians) , were marched to St Pancras
Station, headed by the bagpipes; we entrained for Bedford
where the Highland Division was undergoing intensive
training in preparation for service overseas.
I left the London Scottish Headquarters, Buckingham Gate, to entrain for Bedford.
(I am marked by the arrow) .
We reached our destination at about 5 p.m. and were marched
to a field. Here we were divided into parties and, after a
long halt, were billeted in various houses; in my billet I
was accommodated in a nice bedroom. After being thus
quartered, we returned to the field for tea, which consisted
of bread, jam, and tea.
We thought that we were roughing it, after the comfortable
home life of the past, but the recruits were good fellows
and we were a merry crowd who entered into the spirit of
things. The address of my billet was 190, Forest Hill Road,
After a good nights sleep, we were awakened a 6 a.m, by the
strains of the pipes and drums; tea was served in the field
at 7 a.m. and drill took place until breakfast time. At 9
a.m. drill was continued until 1 p.m (dinner time), then
resumed until 4 p.m.
I will describe the food we received. We were allowed no
milk or butter and at breakfast, the tea was unsugared; it
had a smokey flavour by reason of its preparation over a
camp fire. The menu for the day was as follows -
Breakfast - Tea (so called) ,
A redeeming feature was an ample supply even for the
My sergeant was quite a good fellow, as friendly as he dared
be, and quite willing to help us to the best of his ability.
We were without uniforms and looked strange when drilling in
our civilian clothes; some men wore bowler hats and others
caps and soft hats.
We constantly made mistakes in drill because the non-
commissioned officers spoke such broad Scotch
that we had difficulty in understanding their commands.
Many of the fellows were billeted in empty houses, which had
not been occupied for years, and we commenced to rough it in
preparation for sterner conditions.
A number of the Scottish troops had not volunteered for
overseas service and, in consequence, their kilts had
been taken from them and given to us and they were forced to
wear tartan trousers; these troops were then sent back to
the depot in Scotland.
The lady, with whom we were billeted, was very kind and
offered to us the use of her drawing room which possessed
quite a good piano. The fellows with whom I was quartered
were of an educated class and we had good times together.
- thick bread, fairly stale, and jam.
- sometimes a rasher appeared by mistake.
- Stew (well disguised)
- Bread and jam and tea.
- That left over from tea.
There were no sheets to the beds so, what with sleeping
between blankets and the wearing of army shirts, we had a
A large tent had been provided by the United Free Church of
Scotland Mission, for the Use of the Seaforths, where
writing materials were free and refreshments dispensed at
reasonable prices. A platform had been erected and music and
concerts were a nightly amusement act.
The usual programme of army training was carried out daily,
thus, physical training before breakfast with running,
hopping, etc., drill in the morning until dinner time and
resumed in the afternoon; the evenings were usually free for
the men to do as they pleased.
I was selected to play a football match "Recruits v.
Efficients" of B. Company and, as was expected , it was a
rough game but we managed to win.
It was amusing to see the Scotch fellows playing leapfrog in
their kilts. They were a very hardy lot, a number of them
having served in the Boer War. They did not appear to be
very athletic but were very wirey. I think we could have
beaten them at jumping etc., as they did not seem to be very
We had our meals standing, for the grass was too wet to sit
upon. Then the bacon (if any) for breakfast was brought to
us by an orderly, a struggle generally ensued and those not
successful in the scramble had to go without. This little
tussle took place when the bread was also issued.
One day another 150 recruits arrived and the battalion was
brought to its full strength.
At the end of the first part week, we were paid
the handsome sum of five shillings, which amount was
soon spent on little extras such as food, cigarettes, etc.
In Bedford there was a small but compact little theatre,
where pictures and music hall turns were provided, so my
friend and I occasionally paid our sixpences and indulged in
The battalion band consisted of about a dozen pipers with
bagpipes, and drummers who, on the march, rendered
considerable help to the men when they were tired, by
playing lively Scotch airs and thus cheering them up and
reviving their drooping spirits.
Bedford was the centre for the Scottish troops, which
numbered some 25,000 men. These comprised infantry,
artillery, Army Service Corps, Royal Engineers, Army Medical
Corps, etc. so the town was crowded with troops
I duly joined my company as a trained man, having
successfully completed my training as a recruit.
On Sundays we attended Church Parade, in a field, but I am
afraid that many of the men indulged in sleep instead of
enjoying (') the service. These services were usually
conducted in such a manner that only those in the front
In the evenings, a roll call was held at 9.30 p.m. and
names had to be answered.
When I became attached to the company, as a more or less
efficient unit, I found the drills and duties more
One morning, the Major informed us that he had prepared a
scheme which would last for five weeks . We were to
ommence training in a small way, progress gradually, and
terminate with a three days route march. Nights would be
spent out and the whole idea carried through as though
governed by service conditions.
We started with drill, advancing and retiring in
skirmishing order, using independent and rapid fire. The
Major explained to us the why and wherefore of the
operations and stated that he did not wish us to become
mere machines but to understand the reason for the orders.
We had been lectured regarding innoculation against
various diseases, by an injection made in the left arm
and later in the left leg, to resist enteric and typhoid
fever. My friend and I refused to be so treated as I
then had no faith in the operation. The open air life
suited me admirably and I never felt better in health
Bedford was quite a nice town and the inhabitants most
hospitable. A large building had been utilized
as a place of recreation for the troops, and
refreshments at popular prices were served by lady
In the evenings, the river was lit by coloured electric
lamps which were festooned along its banks, and a
military band played; many people made this spot a
We became engaged upon the next phase of our training,
in learning outpost work, which consisted putting out
scouts, placing sentries over arms, pickets, etc; it
was more interesting than the usual drill. We were
marched over ploughed fields and had to throw
ourselves down and take cover, and twice a week, night
operations were carried out, which consisted of
outpost duty etc; no smoking or talking was permitted.
The Major again unfolded to us his "great scheme" (as he
termed it) , of nine weeks; previously he had referred
to it as a five weeks scheme. It was the topic of
conversation amongst the men and suggested as an excuse
for all our troubles. For instance, if we had some
unpleasant task to carry out or possibly an extra hard
spell of drill, the remark carried along the line in a
whisper, was "grand scheme this, mon"; or, if the men
were more impatient, "hell of a scheme this". If the
food was not up to scratch, someone would remark - "all
a part of the scheme" .
The Scotch boys, I could see, were good fighters,
although full of nonsense, but their slow obedience to
orders aggravated the sergeants. On one occasion, an
order to "form fours" was given by a sergeant but a
man, who was fooling, did not hear the command,
whereupon the indignant sergeant immediately said, in
broad Scotch, "Fur Gawd's sake, mon, move". Naturally
the rest of the company were amused.
One fault seemed to point to the fact that the non
commissioned officers had been (in private life)
friends of the men and, in consequence, the maintenance
of discipline was rather difficult; the following was
The Scene. A field with men halted after a double march.
Private. "But it's warm, gie us a lee doon, Baub"
Sergeant. "Ye want a lee doon, au richt".
(Enter the major)
Sergeant. "Oop, chaps, yon' s th' major".
We progressed with our training, skirmished across ploughed
fields, route marched, etc. We had not yet received our
uniforms although we had constantly worried for them.
Our lieutenant was a very nice fellow who had been with the
battalion for seventeen years and had risen from the ranks;
he talked and smoked with the men and was most popular. The
senior officers and the battalion sergeant-major were very
different (being from the Regular army) and were officious;
they regarded us as only amateur soldiers.
We had practices in trench digging and each man had to
excavate, with pick and shovel, a piece of ground 3ft x 3ft
x 6ft; we suffered from well blistered hands. On certain
days we had fifteen mile route marches.
There were only seven more weeks in which to complete the
scheme, then we were to be taken over by the War Office as
efficient. Army shoes were provided, which were hard and
needed breaking in, they were very heavy after the light
civilian shoes we had so far worn. Uniforms were gradually
issued and new rifles; we expected something definite would
soon materialize. The training now included sham fights and
the use of blank ammunition.
During some nights, we were marched for a distance of some
five or more miles and, in the dark, ordered to dig
trenches; no smoking or talking was allowed and the work was
carried out as quietly as possible.
The were periodic "Brigade days"; the following was an
example. The scheme was an imaginary attack on Bedford, with
cavalry and artillery marching upon us from London, our
Brigade had to repulse them.
One constantly heard the remark, from one or another of the
men (especially on a very long route march or during an
extra duty) - "A terrible war this, Mon", or a similar
expression but in stronger language.
I duly received my kilt and tunic and only awaited the
Glengarry and sporran; now I was nearly a fully dressed
One day I attended a military funeral; the Gaelic wail of
the pipes sounded very weird.
We were inspected by the King. The whole division which
included Seaforths, Gordons, Camerons, Black Watch, Argylls,
etc. numbering some 30,000 men, paraded and marched past
with bayonets fixed. It poured with rain and we were all
soaked to the skin.
On certain days we were marched to the rifle range which had
been erected about four miles from Bedford and at times,
were kept standing about in the pouring rain for the best
part of an hour and then marched back again without firing a
shot; this was a typical example of the sense of humour of
our Divisional Commander.
I took part in a concert which was held in the Guild tent
one evening and conclude that more efforts were more or less
approved as I did not have to dodge any missiles!
We were ordered to parade at 11am to proceed to the rifle
range. At 9am the alarm sounded and we threw our things into
kit bags and paraded in full marching order; we were served
with 120 rounds of ball ammunition per man.
After a preliminary parade for inspection, we stood from
9.45am until 5pm awaiting the arrival of the General. This
caused no small amount of comment from the men, for it was a
long time to be without food; however, this was another
example of the way things were conducted. I presumed that we
would soon receive orders to move, for during this alarm all
the transports had been loaded and officers baggage placed
on trolleys at the station. It was a false alarm,
nevertheless, and we were dismissed to billets but we were
prepared to move at a moments warning. The last battalion to
leave Bedford only received two hours notice.
The General and Staff Officers.
Major General R. Bannatine-Allason, C.B. Commanding the Highland Division (second figure
from the left) with General Sir Ian Hamilton, G.C.B, D.S.O (on the extreme left) and Staff
Officers at the inspection on Goldington Green, February 2 nd , 1915.
There were still no orders to entrain. As the weather had
turned cold, church parades were no longer held in the field
but we were marched to church; the parade ground was covered
in liquid mud and we were forced to take our meals standing.
The companies were billeted in separate streets for sleeping
purposes and the orderlies obtained dixies of tea and food
from the parade ground after the cooks had done their worst.
Each man, with his share, then sat on the pavement, his back
to the railings, with legs plate between them. It was
amusing to see a long line of men feeding in this manner;
some mornings others were served on the pavement .
A large rifle range had now been constructed, which
possessed thirty-two targets, so one half of a battalion was
able to carry out firing practice; each company
was allotted eight targets and, in consequence, tests were
concluded more rapidly. Three thousand recruits proceeded
to Ipswich to assist in digging some twenty-five miles of
trenches; these were constructed at a place about eight
miles from Ipswich. The fellows were welcome to the duty
for not having yet sampled this form of training they, in
their ignorance, departed with enthusiasm.
I took it easy one Sunday afternoon; we had orders to
remain in billets in the evening whilst a number of the
company were on picket duty, for we had to stand by case
called upon for assistance.
When handing in my pass at the guardroom one night, I saw a
struggle take place; six of the guard were struggling to
get handcuffs on a man who had struck a sergeant. This man
was quite an athlete, so it took some time to overpower
him; he was a pretty hard case, having been drummed out of
the Regular Army at an earlier date. He must have spent an
unpleasant night with his hands handcuffed behind his back.
My billet was changed to 102, Hartington Street, and I
shared a room with my friend Gyatt . The landlady, Mrs
Stuart, was kindness itself and did everything possible for
our comfort; her husband was a tailor and we kept him busy
sewing on buttons and pressing our trousers (which we
donned, on certain occasions, instead of the kilt) .
My rations were now collected from the company orderly room
each day and handed to the landlady to prepare and cook.
We were allowed, per day, one pound of meat, half a loaf of
bread, an ounce of tea, two ounces of sugar, a small piece
of butter, and three small potatoes. The landlady had three
young daughters and many musical evenings with these good
folks proved of great enjoyment to us.
Again my friend and I were requested, by the Medical
Officer, to undergo inoculation but, notwithstanding very
uncomplimentary remarks of the Adjutant who was also
present, we refused; we were supported in this by ten others
of the company.
I spent a weekends leave at my home with my parents
and had a splendid time, with a nice bed to sleep in
and plenty of good food. On my return journey,
I travelled to Waterloo without my friend Gyatt (also
on leave); he missed the train. I walked from Waterloo
to St Pancras and London was in complete darkness, as
a precaution against the possibility of an enemy
attack from the air. Just as the train started from
St Pancras, my friend dashed on to the platform.
All tickets had been collected and the carriage doors
locked, as the train was a "non-stop" to Bedford. My
friend sprinted madly along the platform and just
managed to get his foot on the step and dive through
the carriage window into our arms. We duly reached
our destination and were informed, at the guardroom,
that all those on leave had been recalled. Several
men had left for Scotland and telegrams would await
them on arrival instructing them to return at once;
this was tough luck, for the rail fare to the north
of Scotland, when no free voucher was issued, cost
each man about three pounds .
After an inspection by the Colonel one morning, we
started on a three days manoeuvre. We marched some
twelve miles and finished up at a small village named
Riseley, where we spent the night. We were quartered
in a red bricked barn full of chaff which made quite
comfortable beds for sleeping, although it got into
our socks and pricked like needles. There were thirty
or so of us sleeping in it and each man was issued
with a blanket. Needless to say, the noise the fellows
made prevented us from getting much sleep and many
were walking about half the night, endeavouring to get
Before we turned in, we thought we would walk into the
village and get some tea, for our cooks had missed the way
and gone to another village so that there was no prospect of
anything being provided by them. My friend and I called at
the private residence of a baker, by the name of Valentine,
and were welcomed most heartily by the occupants; we were
shown into a room in which a fine log fire was burning and a
splendid tea was placed before us.
We stayed for an hour or so and finally left, with many hand
shakes and wishes of good luck; we returned to the barn and
slept until roused early the next morning.
After breakfast, the transport was packed and we moved
off to another village across country. It was only a few
miles away and we skirmished the distance, for we were
supposed to be attacking a stronghold; we arrived at
midday and had dinner in a field.
We halted close to a farm named Eastfield Farm and I
amused myself by inspecting the various animals. After
tea, we were engaged in a night attack and I spent the
night in a stable, with eight others, and slept on a
stone floor which we covered with straw obtained from a
neighbouring rick but the men in the loft above would not
let us sleep.
There was a trapdoor (or a piece of loose board) which
they soon discovered and showered bran upon us below. The
men on the ground floor hurled very uncomplimentary
remarks, in true army language, at those responsible but,
after a short while, straw and oil cakes rained down and
waterbottles emptied over us. We thought this to be
sufficient and a firey old Scotch corporal blew out the
light, (a candle stuck in the neck of a bottle) , took
down his rifle and fixed the bayonet.
Next time the flap was raised, he thrust the bayonet
through and, as the ceiling was low, a good length of
steel must have penetrated into the loft above. It was a
mystery to me that no man was hurt and this serves as an
illustration of the recklessness of some of the men. We
were not troubled further, for we found a workman who
nailed down the flap.
The next morning, we commenced our march back to
Bedford, a distance of some fifteen miles. When we
passed through the village of Riseley again, we were
given a cheer by the inhabitants who stood at their
gates with plates of cakes. We arrived back at
billets and the three days campaign was ended. We
received, one evening, orders to pack our kitbags in
readiness for immediate departure if, in the middle
of the night, the alarm was sounded; whispers of
entraining for Lowestoft were in the air. However, no
alarm went and we slept in our beds as usual.
There was evidently something m the wind, for all leave was
stopped and no passes were granted to even go into the
town, I believe the excitement was due to the recent naval
battles that had taken place and to the possibility of our
being sent to the East coast to resist invasion; we had to
stand by in our billets in case of the alarm being sounded.
The inoculation question was once more raised and the usual
questions and answers forthcoming the Medical officer.
"Have you been done?"
"Are you for foreign service?".
"Why haven't you been done?.
"I object, Sir".
"Then stay at home, you can't go abroad".
"Very good, Sir; if you wont take me as I am, I'll stay at
Result - discomfiture of the M.o.
It seemed to be a case of wearing us down and I expected
that we would give in later, for the sake of a quieter
The training continued with the usual parades, skirmishes,
etc; we were getting tired of the false alarms and of the
many rumours which were constantly circulated. We were
kept busy digging trenches and carrying out rifle firing
practices on the range.
An epidemic of measles broke out amongst the troops and the
first victim belonging to my company, as taken to hospital
in a Red Cross wagon one afternoon.
Once again the alarm was sounded early one morning and we
rushed to parade with kits packed and were served with ball,
ammunition and iron rations. After standing about for some
long time, the ammunition etc. was collected and we were
dismissed to billets; we were all heartily sick of the many
false alarms and beginning to disbelieve the call of the
Another Divisional Day as ordered and the Seaforths,
Gordons, Black Watch, Argylls, etc, took part in a mock
battle. Whilst passing one of the empty houses in which
some of the Argylls were billeted, I saw the following
wording displayed upon the gatepost "Better meddle wi' th'
diel, than th ' bairns o' Fa' kirk'
I experienced a harder time as the training progressed and
my turn for guard came along. With five others I had to
parade in full marching order commanded by a sergeant. We
mounted guard over ammunition stores, prisoners, etc. each
doing, in turn, two hours sentry duty with four hours rest;
this duty lasted from. 9 am until 1.30 p.m. the next day.
On the 10th December 1914 (My birthday), the 7th Battalion
of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders left for France
and I presumed that it would not be long before we
We had, what was called, a discipline week; punishments
were handed out for even the most trivial offences and
all equipment had to be spotless. We were again informed
that no Christmas leave would be granted and the men
expressed their disappointment in the usual army
language ' .
In the morning we were paraded and drilled and in the
afternoon, taken for a route march. Many of the men had
celebrated the festive occasion and, in consequence, the
column presented a concertina-like appearance, for the men
swayed on their legs. I imagined that the reason for the
march was to keep the men out of the public houses. There
was much singing and all were in good spirits (in more ways
than one) .
The landlady of my billet had cooked a splendid
Christmas spread for us and the landlord provided wine
and cigars. We had a jolly time, playing games and
singing songs round the piano. On Boxing Day, it poured
with rain and we were excused all parades.*
Each day the training continued and increased in its
On New Year's Eve a concert and dance was held in one
of the local halls. Two of the pipers were present
and I was a spectator of the sword dances and quadrilles.
A Scotchman as accused, by another, of being an Englishman.
This was taken as an insult and a knife was at once drawn
from a hosetop; the attacker was seized and order restored.
It is interesting to note, however, that the impulsive knife
drawer attempted to attack another man the following day but
he received a straight blow in the face which put him out of
action for the time being; he exercised greater caution in
After roll call, my friend and I strolled into Bedford
to see out the Old Year. About 100 of my company were
similarly engaged and we paraded the main street
singing songs. My friend and I had a fellow on our
shoulders, whilst some of the men had toy bagpipes and
drums and formed themselves into a band. We proceeded
along the main street in a long line, arm in arm and,
when meeting a similar body going in the opposite
direction, a charge took place and, after a break
through had been accomplished, the march was resumed;
midnight was the signal for a general joining of hands
and the singing of Auld Lang Sync.
My friend and I returned to the billet at about 1 a.m.,
leaving the rest to carry on until daylight. Most of
the men had indulged freely in drink and we carried one
man back to his billet and dropped him on the kitchen
floor; free fights were quite the order of the day.
The following evening the troops were entertained to a
dinner and concert in all the available halls in the
town; two of the pipers preceeded my party when we
marched away. A gentleman in Scotland had sent a
cheque for six hundred pounds, towards the expenses
and we had a splendid time.
Once again the toy bagpipes and drums were in
evidence. It poured with rain but spirits were not
One evening, I had my first experience of police picket,
which party consisted of a sergeant and six men; trouble was
expected on account of the date being near to that of New
Year's Eve. Our duties consisted of maintaining order in the
town and arresting any men who were drank and disorderly, or
who , where apparent, were in the town without permission.
We had one particularly difficult man to deal with, for he
reeled along the High Street and sang at the top of his
voice. Twice he was advised to return to his billet but the
third time, he swung round and hit one of the picket in the
face. We carried him kicking and swearing through the main
street, accompanied by the usual interested band of
spectators; into the presence of the Police Inspector at the
civil police station. Here he was released and dropped on
the ground but immediately got up and struck the Inspector
in the eye. He was thrown to the ground, searched, and
finally deposited in a cell after his boots had been
forcibly removed; we left him singing, swearing, and making
as much disturbance as he possibly could.
There were now many cases of measles of which quite a number
were fatal; military funerals were daily occurrences. There
were seventeen bodies in the mortuary during one week. One
patient was kept waiting an hour, on a stretcher, in the
cold and died; another example of army treatment.
On a certain Sunday, seventeen London men broke bounds and
went to London. In uniform, they would not have passed the
military police at the station and so they carried their
uniforms in suit cases and donned them during the journey.
Information reached the ear of the sergeant-major and, on
their return, an escort awaited them and they were lodged in
the guardroom under arrest. They were paraded before the
Commanding Officer the next morning and duly punished. The
Adjutant refused all leave in consequence of this business,
which was most unfair to tHe remainder. On Monday, the
Sergeant-major, with a special picket, caught another forty
two who had absented themselves without permission.
Recently we had been engaged in severe field operations
under the direction of General Sir Bruce Hamilton; he
informed us that we would shortly proceed overseas. Later we
were marched to the station and there, practiced entraining
and, at the conclusion of these operations, were inspected
by the Brigadier. We called him "Sporran-face" by reason of
the artificial white beard he was reputed to have worn, his
jaw having been shot away during the Boer War.
After taking part in another big field day, Sir Ian Hamilton
inspected us and took the salute as we marched past .
The Camerons were under orders to leave on the 7th of the
following month but nothing was said about the entraining of
Again we were marched to the rifle range and as the water
was four feet deep in the butts, we had orders to remove our
boots and socks and dig out the mud and enlarge the ditches
so that the water would run away; this was a cold
At last my friend and I were inoculated. The figures (if
correct) issued by the War Office, appeared to substantiate
the statement made that such treatment 'was a preventative
against fever' . I am afraid that the prospect of the two days
sick leave, with the consequent absence from parades,
materially helped us to consent to this 'operation'
We expected to go abroad within a month; all leave was
hurried through. Several of Kitchener's New Army officers
appeared one morning, for drill practice. They took it in
turn to drill the company and, to us, the result was very
Recently our Lieutenant was promoted to the rank of Captain
and, one day, we marched to a field for drill exercises; all
ranks were tired of the false alarms and daily routine and
impatient to receive orders to move. Our Captain was equally
fed up and told us to lie down in the shade of the trees and
keep lout of sight, but be ready to jump up and resume drill
at a given signal, should the Adjutant put in an appearance.
He strolled to a corner of the ground which commanded the
approach to the field and, seeing a lady sitting on the
gate, engaged her in conversation. After a little while, the
lady said, "What are you supposed to be doing?".
He replied, "We are all fed up and instead of doing drill. I
have told the men to lie down and keep out of sight;
I am keeping a look out for the Adjutant, who is a blighter
and would raise the very devil if he caught us". He
continued, "I know you by sight but can't remember where I
have met you". "Oh", replied the lady; "I am the Adjutant's
wife but", she added, "Don't worry, I'm a sport". Needless
to add, the Captain nearly swooned.
I was granted four days leave at home. I had a splendid time
and thoroughly enjoyed the good food, comfortable bed, and
rest. A fellow I journeyed back with, said that he had made
so many final farewells with his friends that he almost felt
afraid to go home because people presumed that he was on his
way to France ; the repeated false alarms were proving
embarassing to us all.
I lost a friend during one week. I parted from him in the
evening, as usual, but he failed to put in an appearance
at the early morning parade the following morning. He was
found to be dead in bed and no cause was attributed as his
name had never even figured on the sick list. He was a
very nice quiet fellow and had enlisted at the same time
as I had; his body was taken to London.
The Company was drawn up for inspection by the Medical
officer; he simply walked between the ranks. What a
I again changed my religion; when I first enlisted I
attended the Church of England service, later Presbyterian,
and finally I became a Wesleyan.
There were only half a dozen of us and on account of the
small number, we were allowed to proceed unattended to the
morning service and to sit amongst the civilian congregation
at the church. It was a change to get away from the
everlasting army atmosphere.
Bayonet fighting was a daily occupation and together with
Swedish drill, we were put through it severely. A squad was
formed into a ring, facing inwards, with the men about two
paces apart with their hands behind their backs. A man was
detailea to run round on the outside with a strap in his
hand, which he dropped into the hands of one of the men in
the ring who, in turn, immediately gave chase and
endeavoured to catch the other man before he could complete
the circle , and occupy the vacated place.
If he was successful in catching the running man, he hit
him with the strap; the prospect of such punishment
naturally provided an incentive for fleetness of foot.
We spent periodical nights in trenches and resisted
mock attacks at daybreak. The weather was bad
and the tactics were not much appreciated by the men,
who did not relish having to stand in trenches
throughout the night in pouring rain. Some of these
stretches of duty lasted for seventy-two hours and
resulted in the weeding out of those men who were not In
first class condition. The sick parade was much larger than
Information was received that the whole Highland Division
was to proceed abroad in the course of a week.
Transports were sold by auction and new ones supplied;
all kit was subjected to careful inspection and we
were issued with waterproof covers for our glengarries.
The battalion stood by one night, orders to proceed
to the east Coast having been anticipated. Daily we
heard rumours that we were to move but no definite order
was given. All surplus kit was handed into store and
we were ready to leave at a moments notice.
My Brigade, which consisted of the 5th & 6th seaforth
and two battalions of the Argyll Sutherlands, were to
be the first to leave.
To complete the strength of the Division, (weakened by
reason of a battalion of each the Camerons, Gordons,
Seaforths and Argylls having already proceeded to France) ,
there were battalions of Lancashire and Liverpool Irish
troops attached. We were called the "International
Division", being composed of English, Scotch and Irish
At last the advance party left and we were to depart for
a destination unknown, all was excitement. We received
orders to parade in frill marching order next
morning and marched to the station to entrain.
A wonderful reception was accorded us when we left Bedford
We marched through the High street, which was decked with
flags, and all the inhabitants turned out and gave us a
hearty send off; we felt quite the heroes of the day, with
bands playing and songs sung, and tears were shed by some of
the good folks who regretted our departure.
We entrained, proceeded to Dover, and embarked
on cross-channel steamers, duly arriving at Boulogne.
Some distance from the port our boat stopped her
engine and we stood motionless whilst the
searchlights from the French coast were directed upon
us for a while.
We then proceeded into port and disembarked at about 11 p.
m. We were marched a few miles to the top of a steep hill to
the rest camp at Ostrohove, where we stayed the night under
Service in France
Now commenced the more serious part of the business, and
the following day we entrained at Pont aux Briques for the
line. We were packed into closed cattle trucks and spent
the whole afternoon and most of the night bumped about and
we wondered where we were to be finally deposited. The
journey, during the night, seemed most weird and our
feelings were decidedly mixed. We slid back one of the
heavy truck doors and watched the flashes of the guns,
although too far away for the reports to be heard. The men
discussed what fate might have in store for them.
We arrived at the railhead at Calonne-sur-Lys,
a few miles from the firing line as day broke and
unloaded the transports by the light of flares. We then
paraded and marched through the village and were billeted
in barns . Isolated graves, evidence of earlier fighting
made me wonder what the future had in store.
En route we passed Ghurkas on sentry duty and, to us,
the Indian soldiers looked very weird, standing with
their curved knives drawn.
Only one letter a day was permitted for despatch
by each man, for they had to be censored by the officers.
This duty took a considerable amount of time.
The dinners consisted of stew, made with tinned meat but
there was an ample supply; matches were difficult to
obtain other than those of French manufacture which were
sulphur tipped, difficult to light, and emitted strong
sulphur fumes .
The following day we moved on a few miles to the town of
Robecq and were again quartered in barns . We could hear the
guns engaged in an incessant bombardment throughout the day
and night, and streams of motor transports and ambulances
passed through from the front line.
Nearby ran a canal in which we bathed daily, and several
estaminets were open where we could sit in the evenings; a
very much out of tune piano was appreciated by the men who
passed the time in singing songs and generally making
merry. The most important item to the men, was the arrival
of the post; great excitement always prevailed at the
prospect of a letter or a parcel of food from home.
The rumours that followed us to France were even more
varied than those we had experienced in Bedford.
One was to the effect that our folks at home had heard
that the battalion had been into action and had
suffered heavy casualities; we had not even been into
the firing line.
The reserve line of trenches, near here, was dug by
French peasants who received three francs a day for
I joined the ambulance section of the battalion and
was called a "battalion stretcher-bearer". The duties
were normally carried out by members of the battalion
band, who had handed in their instruments, but one
more man was required to complete the complement of
sixteen, viz, four to each company, and I volunteered
on account of past experience with the St John
Ambulance. We each wore a white armlet bearing the
letters "S.B." in red. We paraded daily for practice
in bandaging, etc. Although classed as ambulance men,
regulations necessitated our carrying rifles and
ammunition like the rest of the men.
One day, my friend and I went to the top of the large
Catholic church to get a view of the surrounding
country and witnessed a fight in the air between some
enemy and British aeroplanes. In the evening we
visited a linseed oil factory.
As we were billeted only a few miles from the front
line trenches, the cost of cigarettes, fruit, cakes,
etc. was heavy and beyond the limited means of the
We rose very early and left for a destination
some eighteen miles away. We proceeded in full
marching order at a forced speed being allowed only
short interval rests of a few minutes each. We passed
through several villages that bore evidence of having
been subjected to shellfire in the past, also the
town of Merville.
We duly reached our destination a few miles behind
the trenches, and were quartered in barns at a place
named Strazeele. Dotted about were the graves of men
who had fallen earlier in the war and small wooden
crosses marked the spots. Many of the houses had been
knocked down by enemy shellfire. The enemy occupied
this district in October 1914 but had since been
In a field we found a large number of old horseshoes
and evidently a mounted regiment had occupied the
position. We amused ourselves by using them in games
The mails followed us up and great excitement was
experienced by those fortunate enough to be the recipients.
Here we heard that the district was
infested by enemy spies.
The following day, we attended (in full marching order) a
church parade in an adjoining field. The booming of the
guns could be heard and motor ambulances and transports
continuously passed through.
A piece of muslin, with a chemically treated wad in its
centre, was issued to each man. This was to be tied
tightly over the nose and mouth in the event of an attack
by poison gas. Occasionally we saw our
patrolling aeroplanes overhead.
A battle progressed and, as we had not been able to reach
the line in time to participate, mounted troops had been
utilized as foot soldiers and sent into the trenches. We,
therefore, stood by as a reserve body.
After two days at this place, an emergency order caused
us to leave at once and we marched through the night, in
pouring rain, to another sector some sixteen miles
distant where the booming of the guns could once more be
heard. We halted at 4 a.m, and slept under a hedge for an
hour, the rain still pouring down. After a hurried drink
of tea and a nibble at a biscuit we were paraded and
marched into the village of La Couture nearby.
This village had badly suffered from enemy shellfire and
scarcely a house remained intact. It was decided to
billet my platoon in a house in the main street the roof
of which was missing, as were all the windows and
opposite stood a church which had also suffered.
Eleven of us had settled down in a room on the third
floor and, as we felt exceedingly hungry, we threw off
our kit and proceeded to revive ourselves with tinned
beef and biscuits.
I had half opened a tin when I heard a terrific crash
and, on looking through the aperture that had once been a
window, saw in the light of a blinding flash that a large
hole had appeared in the road.
We realised that this was to be our first experience of
shellfire and immediately grabbed our kit, tore down the
rickety staircase and made for a small field in rear. I had
just got clear of the backyard, when a huge shell landed and
exploded with a deafening crash, blowing half of the house
and a lot of kit to pieces.
I threw myself into a partially dug trench at the end of the
garden, and witnessed a steady bombardment of the village
which lasted about half an hour. Houses and shops were blown
into the air, for the shells were of very large calibre.
The mails followed us up and great excitement was
experienced by those fortunate enough to be the recipients.
Here we heard that the district was infested by enemy spies.
The following day, we attended (in full marching order) a
church parade in an adjoining field. The booming of the
guns could be heard and motor ambulances and transports
continuously passed through.
A piece of muslin, with a chemically treated wad in its
centre, was issued to each man. This was to be tied
tightly over the nose and mouth in the event of an attack
by poison gas. Occasionally we saw our patrolling
A battle progressed and, as we had not been able to reach
the line in time to participate, mounted troops had been
utilized as foot soldiers and sent into the trenches. We
therefore stood by as a reserve body.
After two days at this place, an emergency order caused
us to leave at once and we marched through the night, in
pouring rain, to another sector some sixteen miles
distant where the booming of the guns could once more be
heard. We halted at 4 a.m, and slept under a hedge for an
hour, the rain still pouring down. After a hurried drink
of tea and a nibble at a biscuit we were paraded and
marched into the village of La Couture nearby.
This village had badly suffered from enemy shellfire and
scarcely a house remained intact. It was decided to
billet my platoon in a house in the main street the roof
of which was missing, as were all the windows and
opposite stood a church which had also suffered.
Eleven of us had settled down in a room on the third
floor and, as we felt exceedingly hungry, we threw off
our kit and proceeded to revive ourselves with tinned
beef and biscuits. I had half opened a tin when I heard
a terrific crash and, on looking through the aperture
that had once been a window, saw in the light of a
blinding flash that a large hole had appeared in the
We realised that this was to be our first experience of
shellfire and immediately grabbed our kit, tore down the
rickety staircase and made for a small field in rear.
I had just got clear of the backyard, when a huge shell
landed and exploded with a deafening crash, blowing half of
the house and a lot of kit to pieces. I threw myself into a
partially dug trench at the end of the garden, and witnessed
a steady bombardment of the village which lasted about half
an hour. Houses and shops were blown into the air, for the
shells were of very large calibre.
After the affair had died down the stretcher-bearers were
kept busy attending to the wounded. Needless to say, our
feelings were very mixed, for the whole business happened
suddenly and without warning. We were told, by an
ant illeryman, that it was an act of madness to have ever
billeted us in such a place, as the village was subjected
daily to a bombardment lasting for about an hour.
We were immediately paraded and marched about a quarter of
a mile to a field behind the church, here we camped, but
we hadn't occupied that position for more than an hour,
when we again came in for a shelling. Some of our
artillery had their positions around the field and the
enemy endeavoured to put the guns out of action by long
We scattered at once but shells burst all round and about
the camping ground. Quite a number of men were hit. When
things were quieter, we lay down for a night's rest.
The experience seemed to have upset the man lying next me,
for he shook the whole night.
The following morning we were marched, through the
village to another field just beyond, where we stayed for
two or three days awaiting orders.
The first afternoon in our new position we were again
shelled and one man who was in the act of undoing a
parcel from home had his head taken off his shoulders by
a shell which omitted to explode.
We were naturally getting tired of this perpetual
shelling, especially in view of the fact that we had not
yet even seen the trenches or a sign of the enemy; we had
suffered casualities and seen nothing of the fighting.
In the next field there was a battery of 9.2 guns
belonging to the Canadian Artillery and the noise of
their discharge was very loud. These guns kept up their
fire at intervals throughout the nights, and the ground
shook with the concussion.
We were very tired and slept through it all.
I experienced a very disagreeable smell when I lay down
to sleep, and after investigating, found that I had been
resting on a mound the earth of which barely covered the
remains of some enemy soldiers who had been hurriedly
buried at an earlier date.
After two days under this periodic enemy shellfire the
battalion received its orders to proceed to the trenches.
The men paraded and moved off whilst I, with the rest of
the battalion stretcher-bearers, reported to the Medical
officer. We were to proceed independently. We loaded up the
medical stores, stretchers, etc, and set off.
We had some four or five miles to march to the firing line
and, as it was dark and the doctor did not seem to know the
route, we were kept going for half the night and wandered
about in full marching order with our rifles slung, trying
to find the battalion.
In due course we found ourselves in a field not very far
from what was obviously, the front line.
We deduced this by reason of the rocket lights that rose and
fell ahead of us and the doctor told us to stay where we
were whilst he went on to see how the land lay. He was
absent for an hour, during which time shells frequently fell
too close to us for our comfort and, being new to the
situation we did not know quite what to do.
We had no notion where we were or in what direction to
proceed. However, our Medical officer duly returned and
informed us that we were some distance from the battalion
which was on the left and that we were then near another
regiment through taking the wrong direction. We set off
again under his guidance and ultimately I reached my company
occupying trenches at Richbourg-St-Vaat , just before dawn.
A Guards Battalion had been relieved by my battalion and two
of the companies were holding a part of the line whilst two
others occupied the reserve trench.
In between the support trench was manned by Ghurkas of the
Meerut Division from India.
That night was a bad one.
A terrific storm with thunder and lightning had not
improved matters. When I reached my company all the men
were standing to, with bayonets fixed, soaked to the
skin. The enemy kept up a continuous bombardment with
heavy shells and a German attack was expected at dawn.
Soon after I had joined my company the Major dashed up
and stated that the enemy were advancing. We felt that
fate was not behaving as nicely as she might have done
and that, for the first night in the line, conditions
were not exactly as comfortable as could be.
However, we put up quite a good show and managed to
pursuade the enemy to return to his lines. He left a
number of dead and wounded outside our trench and was
unable to penetrate our defence.
Our front line trenches had, until the previous day,
been occupied by the enemy but they had been captured
by the Brigade of guards. The slaughter had been very
heavy, hundreds of bodies lay about behind the front
line trench, left there when the enemy had retreated.
The stench of the battlefield was indescribable and during
the nights that we occupied this small sector, we buried
some eighteen hundred bodies by simply digging huge holes
and, after placing them in, roughly covering them with
earth. This work could only be carried out during the night,
when we could not be seen, for throughout the day the enemy
had snipers posted and it proved fatal to show oneself for a
We were subjected to a heavy bombardment throughout the
period we occupied the line and, as a stretcher bearer, my
time was fully occupied with the casualaties, bandaging
the wounded and carrying them back to the dressing-station
behind the line, or disposing of our dead.
For food, we had to rely upon the iron rations with which we
had been provided before marching into the line. These
consisted of biscuits and bully beef.
As the wind had been blowing away from our trenches we
were not troubled by enemy gas attacks but we had been
particularly annoyed by enemy snipers, who had been
responsible for the deaths of several of the men. One
sniper was duly located in a small ruin of a house between
the enemy trench and our own.
The artillery were notified and we had the pleasure of
seeing a shell land on the offender's position. Another
sniper was disposed of by two ghurkas who undertook to
After dark they left their trench and in due
course returned with the snipers head. They had found him
in a position between the trenches, in a tub which was
buried in the ground.
The lid, covered with earth and in which beet appeared to
be growing, had simply to be raised by the sniper whilst
he fired his rifle. When lowered again, he was completely
hidden from view.
The surrounding country looked most desolate. No house
remained standing, the trees had all been smashed down by
she shellfire and the mud and filth knee deep. During the
night parties of men were engaged upon repairing the
trench and removing enemy dead from the dugouts recently
This work had to be carried out in the dark.
Not a glimmer of light dared be shown otherwise enemy
machinegun and rifle fire immediately resulted and
inevitable casualities were suffered. The enemy fired
lights into the air in order to see whether any activity
was apparent on our side, and if we were out in front of
the trench engaged upon erecting barbed wire
entanglements or other work, we had to remain perfectly
still until the flare of the lights had passed away in
order to escape notice.
I passed through one recently captured trench
and saw many belts of enemy machine-gun ammunition, the
bullets of the cartridges reversed. This was an inhuman
practice for if hit by such a bullet, terrible injuries
During the daytime, our aeroplanes flew over the German
line to note any sign of an impending counter attack.
The machines were subjected to anti-aircraft gunfire but
carried on with their job continuously.
Just before dawn one morning, after having occupied
the trenches for a week or more, we were relieved by another
battalion of the Brigade and marched back a few miles to the
village of Locon. It was a relief to get away from all the
mud and shellfire.
We were billeted in old barns, which had suffered a
little from shellfire and when we reached our new
quarters we were so worn out that we simply threw off our
kit, dropped to the ground and immediately fell asleep.
Next morning we rose, breakfasted, thoroughly cleaned
ourselves and our equipment and paraded for inspection.
Our kit had to be perfectly clean and all metal work
polished, although we had been up to our knees in mud
only the previous night.
We were complimented by the Brigadier on the manner in
which we had conducted ourselves during our first
experience of real warfare.
The men washed their underclothes in a neighbouring
stream and put them out to dry.
Whilst in the trenches we had all been troubled with lice
and we took this first opportunity of ridding ourselves of
these pests, if only for a short while.
We rested here for a day or two and then moved on to
further quarters which, although situated some distance
from the trenches, were subjected to enemy shellfire.
On such occasions we took cover in small dugouts with
sandbagged roofs, each of which were only splinter
proof and useless against a comparatively direct hit
from a shell.
The shelters were named by their occupants and mine
bore the name "Hotel Cecil" on a board outside.
Although we were supposed to be resting, in reality we
were worked harder than would have been the case had we
occupied the firing line.
Fatigue parties were at work day and night and, during the
night, we were marched for miles to the trenches and kept
at work digging communication trenches, burying dead, and
erecting barbed wire entanglements etc. (often, coming
under shell and gun fire during these operations) . We
returned to the "resting place" about 5 am. dead tired and
hungry. Generally, we had the added discomfort of pouring
rain and deep mud to contend with, in point of fact
occupying the trenches was preferred.
Balmoral bonnets were supplied in place of the
glengarries and we returned to occupy trenches at The
Orchard, Festubert. Here, many dead were lying around
and the stench was atrocious. The company had been
shelled at intervals the whole way from billets and
many times the men had to take cover and wait until
things had quietened down. Dodging these bursts was
simply a matter of luck.
The road was pitted with huge shellholes and two of
the men were reputed to have sustained fractured
ankles by slipping into them in the dark.
The distance from reserve to the front line was too
far for a communication trench to be constructed and
the enemy was ranged on all the roads and possible
routes which he constantly shelled.
When near the front line advancing over open country,
we had to stand still whenever the enemy fired his
flare lights into the air. Signs of movement would have
brought machinegun and rifle fire upon us.
That part of the line was extremely lively for
the enemy fire which consisted of artillery, trench
mortar , machinegun and rifle, kept up a more or less
continuous bombardment. Added to this the trenches had
been hurriedly repaired and in many places were not even
bulletproof and possessed no dugouts.
As soon as we had settled down work commenced. Sandbags
were filled and the contstruct ion of the trench
proceeded. This work was done during the night but much
of it was undone by the enemy shell fire during the day.
He shelled the trench and knocked it in again.
Snipers were very active.
We were subjected to an intense bombardment and stood to to
resist a German attack, which was again accompanied by a
heavy storm with thunder and lightning.
Here I had rather a lucky escape; a large enemy shell landed
on the top of the trench breastwork, opposite to me, but
failed to explode. It remained in that position during the
time we occupied that sector; we treated it with the
greatest respect and left it severely alone lest it should
We had many casualities throughout the bombardment and I was
kept busy the whole day, and the following night attending
to the wounded and burying the dead. I was particularly
sorry for one man, he had had a leg blown off early that
morning, when I had immediately placed a tourniquet on the
stump to save him from bleeding to death.
Whilst doing that service, a huge shell had landed nearby
and covered us with earth and stones .
As it had been quite impossible to leave the trench in
daylight, owing to the terrific fire of the enemy, this man
remained propped against the side of the trench until it was
Another stretcher-bearer, and I then placed him on to a
stretcher and set out for the dressing-station in the
It was an unforgetable night; the whole ground had been
ploughed into liquid mud by the continuous shell fire and
every step we took with the stretcher caused us to sink in
up to our knees. Added to this, the ground was strewn with
bodies which we could not avoid in the dark. At intervals we
had to lower the stretcher and lie in the mud to escape
splinters from the big shells that exploded on our route.
The whole affair was like a nightmare for it took from 7 pm.
until 5am. the next morning to carry the wounded man a
distance of about a quarter of a mile. By the time we had
reached the dressing-station, and handed him over to the
Doctor, the tourniquet had been on his leg for forty-eight
hours and he had been under shell fire the whole time.
My fellow stretcher-bearer and I were completely exhausted
and threw ourselves to the ground for a rest before
returning to the trench. The dressing-station on was full of
wounded, waiting for the ambulances to come up after dark
from the clearing station in the rear.
It was pitiful to watch the expressions on their faces as,
in their helplessness, they heard the bursting of enemy
shells in close proximity and wondered whether one would
drop on the dressing station. I did not envy the Medical
officer who had to carry out his duties under such awful
Whilst in this part of the line, we obtained water for
washing and shaving purposes from shell holes which the rain
had filled. I daily adjourned to one to carry out my toilet
and it was situated behind the parados of the trench; the
water, on which a green scum floated, was rank but had to
serve its purpose for ablution requirements. The water
receded, as the days passed, until one morning I discerned
the body of a man at the bottom when I knelt down to wash;
it occurred to me that the time had arrived when I should
seek a more savoury position.
After a week of the foregoing conditions, we were relieved
and then dropped back into the reserve trenches for a few
days, and later were marched back to more rest billets a few
miles behind the line.
We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity of cleansing ourselves
of the mud and lice and opened our letters and parcels which
had arrived and were with the transport section. We slept in
dilapidated barns and, as one of the men was the possessor
of a concertina, many sing songs took place.
The company returned to the trenches and, after six days of
occupation under periodical heavy shellfire, in which we
suffered many casualities, were warned that the following
day we were to attack the Prussian Guards who were opposite.
I occupied a small shelter which as constructed of sandbags.
On the top, earth had been piled and, in this, a body had
been buried so that the feet of the victim protruded over
the doorway facing the shelter entrance. About four yards
away was the grave of a fallen soldier with its rough wooden
cross surmounted by a broken rifle and a clip of cartridges
and so I had a pleasant outlook.
We understood that the French were to make a big attack an
our right. It was realised that with the limited number of
troops available it could not be hoped to even reach the
enemy lines, especially as the attack was planned to take
place at 2 pm, in broad daylight. Yet it was proposed to
sacrifice a whole company of men as a feint in order to
impress the enemy that an attack was to take place in our
sector, thus prevent him from sending his reserves to the
part of the line where the French were to 'take' the
It was a gloriously sunny day and, after two hours
bombardmentent , "C" company was ordered over; the stretcher-
bearers followed to render assistance to the wounded if
practicable. Directly our bombardment had ceased, the enemy
opened with his machine guns and swept the parapet of the
trench and many men were wounded or killed as soon as their
heads appeared above the top. The rest of us succeeded in
advancing towards the enemy trench but the fire was so
heavy, we only managed to proceed half the distance and were
then forced to lie down and take any cover we could. The
bombardment of our artillery had failed to destroy the enemy
barbed wire entanglements.
The German artillery was directed upon us and every moment
the ranks were being thinned all the officers had been
killed or wounded and tt was realised the impossibility of
endeavouring to push further forward.
The only chance to survive was to keep under cover unseen in
the hope of getting back to our own trench after dark; this
Out of a full company, only twelve of us got back untouched
and the senior one was made a sergeant. All the officers and
non-commissioned officers had been killed or wounded. My
fellow stretcher-bearer and I spent the whole night getting
in the wounded and bandaging and conveying them to the
dressing-station; we felt worn out and hungry.
The following day, it was decided to indulge in a similar
experiment and that the men of "B" Company were to be the
victims. Needless to say, when the men heard of the treat in
store far them, they contemplated the order with many
misgivings and viewed the idea as one of pure murder.
They resented the thought of being sacrificed when they
had no hope of even reaching the enemy trench. This
company occupied the support line and once again I was
to accompany the men when they made the attack.
At midday (after a bombardment lasting for an hour or so)
the company proceeded up a communication trench to the
jumping off place. This communication trench was only
partially dug and we were subjected to a perfect hail of
indirect machinegun bullets which kicked up the ground
around us. The enemy also replied to our bombardment by
sending over shrapnel shells both fast and furious.
We lay in the bottom of the trench for a few moments,
endeavouring to get cover, and a shrapnel shell burst just
above us and killed a sergeant and some men who were
occupying a traverse of the trench but I, being at the end,
just managed to escape; shrapnel bullets peppered the ground
It was too hot a corner in which to remain and we jumped up
and, in keeping ourselves as low as possible, were forced to
walk over the bodies of our late comrades.
We reached the front trench and waited a few minutes for the
order to go over the top.
A ditch ran at right angles to our front line
and it had been decided that, at a given signal, we were
to crawl along it in single file and, when at the end, to
extend quickly, lie down and then rush the enemy trench.
The whistle blew and we proceeded according to plan.
The Captain was leading and he called a halt as soon as
he had reached the end of the ditch and then gave the
order to stand up in readiness to extend. An enemy
machinegun suddenly opened fire and this officer was shot
through lung. He was a great favourite with the men and
said "Cheer up boys, I'm glad it is neither of you.
carry on and the best of luck". At that moment, a runner
from the Colonel (who had been watching operations from
the front line trench) passed up a message that the
attack had been postponed and that we were to return to
The feelings of relief experienced by us all cannot be
readily realised, for we knew that had we carried on with
the attack, we would have been wiped out in a similar
manner to "C" Company the previous day. We afterwards
heard that our attack had been talked about for a week
past, in the hope that information would reach the enemy
and so keep him from transferring any of his reserves to
resist the French attack which, was to take place on our
We were handicapped by the tremendous superiority of the
enemy artillery, for he possessed an unlimited supply of
shells of large calibre, whilst the number of shells was
rationed to our guns. In consequence, we were subjected to
intense bombardments and a telephone message to our
artillery would only result in a limited number of rounds
being fired in reply. When our artillery shelled the enemy,
he was sure to .reply with double the number of shells and,
in the end, we came off second best. When we first entered
the trenches, our artillery possessed old reconditioned
guns which were unreliable; they occasionally fired shells
into our own trenches by reason of their dropping short of
In due course, we were relieved and marched back to a
small farm behind the line. We reached there in the early
hours of the morning and found a field kitchen busily
engaged in making tea. We were wet through, tired out and
hungry, and the hot tea was a wonderful stimulent.
At dawn we resumed our march to a lovely spot some eight
or nine miles back and with our ground sheets, we erected
improvised tents in a small orchard situated in the centre
of a copse of nut trees. It would be impossible to express
the wonderful feeling of enjoyment we experienced in being
transplanted to that lovely spot, with the sweet smell of
honeysuckle and the singing of the birds, after the nerve
wracking time we had just passed through.
The mails had accumulated and the usual excitement
prevailed when the cry "the post is up" was carried from
mouth to mouth. We gathered round the pile of letters and
parcels and one sensed, more than ever, the brutality of
war, for on turning over many of the parcels I noted that
they were addressed to the poor fellows who had been
killed. The personal element now crept in and was
emphasised by the appearance of the homely writing of the
addresses on the packages, writtenn by wives or parents.
Looking back upon our recent attacks, I realised the luck
of the game and the narrow escape that had been constantly
experienced, now we were resting in such perfect
surroundings the feeling of safety and quietude was
heavenly with no fear of heavy shells unexpectedly dropping
around us. I recalled to mind my recent surroundings and
pictured, in detail, the mud and filth and the hasty burial
of the dead just outside the trench, with the places marked
by simple rough crosses surmounted by broken rifles or
parts of equipment belonging to the unfortunate men.
After resting for a few days, we received, whilst a heavy
thunderstorm was once again in progress, the news that we
were to move off the following day. We marched some ten
miles to the town of staires , arriving about midnight. My
company was quartered in a large factory containing spinnin-
looms. The floor was a cobblestone one and not very
comfortable to sleep upon but preferred to deep mud.
At an earlier date, the enemy had used these premises for a
During the following afternoon, my friend and I inspected
the town and visited a large Catholic Church, which was a
magnificent building and contained elaborately decorated
altars and chapels. It was a hot afternoon and we later sat
by the side of the river. Although this town was situated
only a few miles behind the line it had not received much
damage from shellfire, many of the shops were occupied and
On Sunday, we attended church parade in an adjoining field.
Later, we moved on to a new position and three companies
of the battalion occupied a portion of the front line at
Laventie, whilst my Company was placed in partially
demolished houses and barns in reserve. This part was
quiet, for shellfire was negligible, although rifle and
machinegun fire were very active. We had been drafted to
this quiet sector for a rest and to await for
reinforcements of officers and men from England.
Sleeping on the floor of the billets, at intervals we
could hear bullets hitting the walls and passing through
the laths and plaster; dust showered down upon us.
All the troops were eagerly awaiting the arrival in
France of the New Army, recruited by Lord Kitchener, for
it was anticipated that their appearance would mean a
longer rest from the trenches and shorter spells on the
line. We had heard so much about the formation of this
New Army and had waited so long for it to appear that
the men were becoming sceptical of its existence, for
they thought that it was another rumour circulated to
keep up the morale of the troops already fighting. The
following conversation could be heard shouted, as one
battalion passed another on the march, "Seen any of
Kitcheners Army?". Reply, "oh, shut up, you know d-- well
it is only a yarn and that there is no such thing" . This
army was to have been ready in May and even the enemy
had shouted across - "Vere is dot Kitchener Army".
We had been engaged in digging communication trenches. The
reinforcements of officers and men arrived and were posted
to the various companies. Our new officers were splendid
men who had already served in France with the London
Scottish and had been granted commissions.
The Engineer sappers had mined an enemy front line trench
and, at midday, we stood to and , waited for it to be fired.
A terrific explosion took place and about seventy yards of
trench was blown up; sandbags, pieces of timber, earth and
stones, etc. were hurled into the air and our artillery
opened with shrapnel shells. I couldn't help but feel a
little sorry for its occupants.
The trenches were fairly close to each other in this sector
and, at nights, the Germans could be heard singing. My
company duly took its turn in the front line and, an hour
before dawn each day, we had to stand for it was at this
time (between the lights) that a surprise attack took
place. Flare rockets from each side went up at intervals.
It was comparitively quiet throughout the day, with only
occasional fire from the sentries. Enemy snipers were very
active and it was dangerous to permit even a moment ' s
exposure above the trench or the result, would be fatal.
Several careless indiuiduals were shot through the head.
The weather was extremely warm and a change from the very
wet time we had recently experienced. The flies were
numerous and a nuisance. The sentries kept a lookout by
using steel loopholes and periscopes.
There was a saying "that wherever the Highland
Division is, so the shells follow". We understood
the truth of this, for weeks past the sector had been
quiet but we received orderd to "liven things up". Our
artillery started the business and, of course, the enemy
brought up his guns and retaliated. Trench mortar bombs
were frequently sent over and, as the enemy projectiles
were larger and more deadly than ours, we were not too
cheery about the affair. During the day, enemy mortar
bombs could be seen in the air; sentries were posted to
warn us of the approach of these unwelcome visitors.
They were fired into the air to a great height and turned
over and over on their way down to their objective; as
soon as the cry "trench mortar" was heard, all eyes were
turned to the sky and anxious efforts made to locate the
objects, whilst speculation was indulged to their
probable places of landing; we stood in readiness to run
to right or left in an effort to dodge them. They landed
with thuds and, in about a second, exploded with
deafening crashes. Heads were kept low to avoid the
The duty of patrol work was not looked upon with any great
amount of pleasure. Several of us were detailed to creep
towards the enemy trench, under the guidance of an officer,
get as close as possible in order to listen and endeavour to
ascertain whether certain sectors were occupied by German
troops and note any sign of special activity.
On occasions we would see an enemy patrol approaching our
line bent on a similar errand and we lay down and remained
quiet until it had passed. Patrols usually evaded one
another if possible, because if they did happen to stumble
upon one another in the dark and become engaged in a fight,
possibly both patrols would be wiped out. We selected a
large shell hole near the enemy barbed wire entanglements
and lay there for about an hour. Previously to this a
messabge was passed to the sentries in our front line to be
careful when firing, to watch for our return and not mistake
us for the enemy.
After a spell in this sector we were relieved and marched
back through the town of Laventie, which had suffered
severly from the shellfire and I came to rest in an old
coachouse. The following day we had a game of football in a
field, whilst shells were bursting in the town. One Sunday I
counted over a hundred heavy shells fired into and about the
town by a long range enemy gun. The church was in complete
ruins, only parts of the outside walls remained standing.
The first night we were "resting" we were formed into
fatigue parties and marched back to the front line, each man
carrying stores of some sort such as corrugated iron sheets,
All the roads behind were periodically swept with enemy
machinegun fire and, at one place, we had to lie down for
nearly half and hour and take cover behind the ruins of a
house until it was safe to hurry on. We had two fellows
wounded in the ankle.
Other nights we were engaged in digging communication
trenches. Each morning we were paraded for inspection and
there was no excuse accepted for either mus on the uniform
or rust on the rifle or bayonet; even the pleats of the
kilts were examined by the officer.
This spell was equivalent to thirty days in the trenches; we
were occupied in the reserve for six days, ^resting' for six
days, back in the front line for six days and then six days
in reserve again.
The fatigue work was carried out under intermittant
machinegun and rifle fire which was often of a more exposed
character than that of front line duty, especially in the
case of the fixing of barbed wire entanglements out in front
of the trench.
Whilst out ^resting' , small parties of men were marched to
an old mill where tubs had been installed. Each man enjoyed
a nice hot bath, which was much appreciated as being the
first experienced since arrival in France.
Afterwards we were supplied, in an upstairs room, with clean
socks and shirts and our kilts were disinfected.
An old trench, behind the front line, gave evidence of
earlier fighting in the war. It had apparently been captured
by the French from the Germans. I walked through it out of
curiosity, and noted that it had been badly smashed during a
bombardment and many half buried bodies lay about. I came
upon a complete skeleton in a French uniform. A party of men
were engaged in digging up some enemy remains in order to
find the helmets, to clean up and sell as souvenirs for a
few francs when they went on leave to the base. I watched
for a time but the smell was so atrocious I left them to
The enemy daily treated us to a shelling from a long range
fun of an armoured train. The shells must have been of very
large calibre, for when they exploded the noise was terrific
and the ground shook.
When out of the line, orders were at times read out by a
non-commissioned officer. One item that was always received
in silence was the intimation that a certain man of a given
regiment has been found guilty of cowardice and that the
sentence of death had been duly carried out. We all knew the
strain liable to be placed upon a man in the thick of a
fight and could imagine the awful feelings that must have
driven him to falter. It was a debatable point as to when a
man could be accused of cowardice or whether he was simply
suffering from broken nerve and not responsible for his
actions. Reasoning the matter.
We realised that a man who hesitated at a critical moment or
turned tail, might easily be instrumental in ruining an
attack, for in war when mens nerves are strained to the
utmost, a panic might easily develop and in consequence,
immediate obeyance of orders was essential.
We had been amused by the descriptions appearing in the
newspapers regarding life at the front. According to their
reports we had been enjoying hot baths every time we left
the trenches and were treated to concerts and shows behind
the lines. So far we had only seen one delapidated piano
in an estaminet. The splendid food was also alluded to; even
when we were resting, we received, either stew or biscuits
and tinned beef. Breakfast and tea consisted of one sixth
of a loaf of bread, a piece of cheese, and one insignificant
rasher of driedup bacon. For tea, we had one sixth of a loaf
of bread with cheese and, sometimes a tin of jam was shared
between a number of us.
It will, readily be appreciated that the parcels from
home were shared, with their little unexpected titbits
of tinned fruit, real loaves of bread, butter and
possibly cigarettes, which delicacies were much
The men serving at the base, miles from the fighting, were
envied. They were able to enjoy good food and, no doubt the
concerts and shows were arranged for their benefit. They
must have been gifted with good imagination, for they
appeared to be past masters in the art of retailing episodes
of the firing line, although they had to rely upon the
newspapers for their information and not personal
Some of the men engaged behind the line were aware of their
good fortune. One driver, attached to the Army Service Corps
said that he wouldn't have been an infantryman for a pound a
The Royal Medical Corps unfortunately earned itself the
title "Rob all my comrades", by reason of the
disgraceful conduct of certain of its men in
appropriating the souvenirs etc, of the wounded men in
the hospitals and sending them to their homes.
Many wounded man recovered only to find that his
souvenirs, which he had been cherishing for weeks past,
had been taken by some enterprising collector. It was
rather irritating for this Corps to have earned such an,
uncomplimentary nickname, which was only occasioned by
the misdemeanour of a few callous wrongdoers.
One night, I sat in a dugout (which had a sack fixed across
its doorway to prevent even a glimmer of light, from the
stump of a candle, being seen by the enemy) trying to read
an old newspaper.
The dugout was just large enough for me to crawl into and
was dug into the side of the trench. Suddenly the cry
"stretcher-bearers" reached my ear. I immediately grabbed
my bag of bandages and stumbled out into the dark, just as
my companion appeared. We picked up the stretcher and
proceeded along the trench until stopped by a group of two
or three men.
They informed us that a working party had been
out in front of the trench and a machinegun had opened fire
ending with one of them being shot dead.
The party had at once rushed into the trench and two
stretcher-bearers had gone out to bring in the man. Whilst
engaged upon this duty a machinegun had again opened fire
one of the stretcher-bearers had been shot through the head
and killed. As it now seemed fairly quiet we decided to go
out and bring in the two bodies.
I realised that negotiating a stretcher would prove
difficult and we decided to take a ground sheet.
We no sooner reached the spot when again the machinegun
opened fire, we lay flat on the ground and took cover behind
the bodies of our late companions whilst bullets struck the
ground around and threw earth over us.
At the first lull in the fire we quickly rolled one man on
to the sheet and, crawling on our stomach, dragged him into
the trench. Dodging a second burst of fire, we returned and
fetched in the second man in a similar manner. We examined
them and found that had both been shot through the head and
killed instantly. The next morning we laced them in their
ground sheet and buried them.
In due course we were relieved by Indian troops and
marched back about eight miles, through the town of
Estaires, to the neighbourhood of another town and were
quartered in a barn. We thoroughly enjoyed the rest from
the firing line and I visited an aerodrome nearby and
watched the return of our aeroplanes from observation work
over the enemy lines. The wings of some of the machines
had been riddled by bullets.
After two or three days we entrained and, after a fourteen
hour journey, reached the Somme area. The transport was
unloaded at a place named Corbie and we were marched to
Pont Noyelle. Windows of houses were raised and the
inhabitants gazed at us as we passed by in the dark of the
night. We were now about fifteen miles from the front line
and speculated at what kind of sector we would be called
upon to hold. The following day we were inspected by the
General Commanding the Third Army.
On the top of a hill near the village, I visited the
monument which had been erected to commemorate the
Franco-German war of 1370. I entered into
conversation with two aged inhabitants of the village
and they I informed me that the Uhlans had visited
that part in the early days of the war and they
remembered the Germans being there during the 1870
war; bullet marks in the door of their house were
pointed out in confirmation.
Two days later, we commenced on a fifteen miles march
towards the front line and, during the journey, the
field kitchens prepared food for us to have during one
of the short rests.
We duly passed through the town of Albert, and noted
that it had badly suffered from shell fire, sections
were in complete ruins. The large cathedral had each day
been subjected to heavy artillery fire and the large
figure of the Madonna and Child, at the top of the
steeple, leant over at rightangles . This figure was
expected to fal at any moment and a superstition existed
amongst the French troops to the effect that once it did
fall, the war would end. The town was shelled throughout
the day and night and transports and men were, at times,
unsuccessful in dodging the salvos of shells; casualties
were numerous .
We came to rest in the village of Autuille which
is situated at the foot of a hill just behind the line.
We were the first division of British troops to relieve
the Trench on the Somme.
The sector was extraordinarily quiet, especially in
comparispon with Festubert and, although the village
was in such close proximity to the front line trench,
it had been very slightly damaged. Several estaminets
still dispensed their refreshments.
Here we found large dugouts and the French troop
had evidently believed in comfort, for they had constructed
beds, made from struts and covered with wire netting which
were very comfortable. They had also constructed rustic
tables and chairs. In an old house I found a very much out of
tune piano and accompanied a mixture of French and British
troops in a singsong. The French troops gave us a hearty
welcome and informed us that the sector was extremely quiet
and that only eight light shells a day were fired into the
village. They were sent over in pairs at the following times
11 am, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 8 p.m., and the French artillery
At the times stated, the trench troops had gone into the
dugouts, whilst the shells burst, and returned to the
estaminets at the conclusion of the comic bombardment.
We thought this to be an extraordinary way of carrying on
war but were prepared to enjoy our improved surroundings. We
were also informed that, previous to our arrival, the enemy
had shouted across to the French that they were being
relieved by Scottish troops and the French had ridiculed the
idea. The secret intelligence of the enemy was extraordinary
and he seemed to know, in detail, the movements of our
The brigadier made a statement that X I have the boys to
liven things up' . We presumed that a quiet future could not
At night, in our dugouts, we were annoyed by a pest of
mosquitos attracted by the swampy district; also hordes of
rats. We had ratting expeditions and, armed with wooden
clubs, exterminated as many as possible. These rats were
very large and scampered about during the night, sometimes
running over the face of a sleeper.
They made an annoying noise and fought for food and often
eatables left in a pocket would cause a tunic to be gnawed
We later occupied the front line trench and our artillery,
having moved into position, commenced to range upon the
At dawn on the first day, we found on our barbed wire
entanglements, a piece of paper on which was a written
request that two or three of our men would, at a given time
proceed half way across no mans land and meet a similar
number of Germans in order to exchange periodicals and
souvenirs, as the French had been accustomed to do.
After a consultation, our interpreter and two men agreed
and, at noon, met the enemy halfway; the heads of the troop
on each side were above the parapets and no firing took
place. Later, when we left the trenches, we were paraded
before the Commanding Officer and severely reprimanded. He
stated that x it was impossible to fight a man with one hand
and give him chocolates with the other' . We were given to
understand that any similar action in the future would be
severly dealt with.
As our artillery became more active, that of the enemy also
increased and, one day, the enemy fired a mine under our
It had been incorrectly laid and simply gave us a shake up
and knocked in a stretch of trench so the casualties were
only slight. As things started to liven up the village
suffered and the houses were gradually razed to the ground.
A part of Kitcheners New Army had now arrived in France and
batches were sent into the line for instruction. Although
the village had not suffered very much so far, I was amused
by the remark of one of the newcomers - x By gum, they've
given it to this place' ; the damage was nothing as compared
with villages we had previously occupied.
Le portail de la Basilique (Albert, the Somme)
Le clocher de Notre-Damn de Brebieres (Albert, The Somme)
The Question followed,- ^ Is it quiet here?". At that moment
a battery of our guns opened fire to the speaker's
consternation, who asked - "What's that?"; I put his mind
at rest by informing him that the noise was from our own
artillery. The approach to the village was through a dense
wood and a party of the newcomers passed that way. They
were uneasy concerning the flashes and explosions in the
wood and relieved when told that they were only caused by
our guns. I sympathised with them in their perplexity for I
remembered so well my own feelings when I received my first
The enemy troops had been relieved and, once again, we had the
Prussian Guards in front of us. They had followed us down from
Festubert . We knew that before long old conditions would
return, in the livening process desired by the Brigadier.
We were engaged upon digging communication trenches in
readiness for greater activity in the future. It poured with
rain and we were up to our knees in chalky water.
After two weeks in the line, we were marched back to a
village named Martinsart where we~slept in barns during a
spell of duty in reserve . Periodically at night, alarms
brought us to parade in readiness to move off. These were,
however, false and ordered for practice. We were timed to
turn out in a few minutes.
A friend of mine, one night, placed a piece of "paper over
his face in order to keep away mosquitos. This paper had
contained a cake from home and still had crumbs adhering to
it. He was awakened by a rat coming on to his face to feed.
We marched a few miles on one occasion and were detailed to
dig dug outs for the artillery (much to the disgust of the
A week's rest being ended, we returned to the front-line. This
time in front of the village of Aveluy . The trenches were cut
in chalk and when it rained the water presented the appearance
of milk as it flowed along; welooked like a lot of miliars. The
dugouts were quite comfortable and the sector was fairly quiet.
The enemy only fired small shells, nicknamed by the men 'Cheeky
Charlies' , 'Pip squeaks' or 'Wiz-bangs' .
The larger shells, when fired at a long range, could be heard
approaching by their deep whistle, which got louder and louder
as they came nearer and seemed to lumber through the air and
were called 'Weary Willies', 'Jack Johnsons' or 'Coal Boxes';
the last named by-reason of the huge columns of black smoke
that trailed skyward after they had exploded.
Whilst the French occupied the sector, they had only
roughly buried some bodies in the parados of the trench
and portions were protruding through the side in one
place, a body was buried on the roof of a small dugout.
Our field kitchens were situated about a mile to the rear
and with them was one belonging to the new Kitchener Army,
attached for instructional purposes.
The cook in charge visited us in the firing line, to look
round. He was a humourous individual and kept us amused.
He informed us that when the first shell burst near his
cooker, he had jumped nearly eighteen feet into the air.
He had been a member of Fred Karno's Company and had acted
in a sketch called "The Mumming Birds" (which I had seen
in London), with Charlie Chaplin.
We were daily shelled but our casualties were light. More
thunderstorms occurred and the trenches were deep in water
and we waded in thick chalky mud.
On one occasion, instead of using the communications
trench, one of the men decided to proceed from the
supports to reserve over the open country. He was seen by
our much loved ( 1 ) Adjutant, who ordered him into the
trench and said, A We don't mind you being killed, it's the
damned nuisance of having to bury you that annoys us' .
That spell in the line finished, we were relieved and
marched back to the village of Millencourt , for a "rest". W
were informed that we were to remain in the sector during
the Winter and the usual round of trench digging, carrying
up stores, etc. kept us busy for a few days and then we
moved to another village Bouzincourt . We were again
quartered in barns.
We returned to the front line at La Boiselle, only fifteen
yards separated the enemy trench from our own. It had been
comparatively quiet and the Germans and men had exchanged
souvenirs by simply tossing them from one trench to the
One day, however, one of men shouted out "I'm sending over
present, Fritz". Instead of throwing a souvenir, he threw a
From that time onwards, the place was a little hell to
occupy and each side periodically exchanged huge trench
mortar bombs throughout the day and night and, added to
that, mining and counter-mining took place. As soon as
the trench was built up, it was smashed down again.
It became impossible for either the enemy or ourselves
to occupy that part of the trench during the day but at
night, sentries had to crawl out to watch and listen.
The slightest sound caused the enemy to open fire with
his trench mortars and casualties mounted up quickly
whilst we held this part.
The sentries were relieved every half an hour and glad
they were to rejoin their company, for they never knew
during their turn of duty, when a bomb might blow them
to pieces. The trench and dugouts were smashed flat and
it was useless to repair them.
Our artillery had, by then, become exceedingly expert
and were supported with guns of a large calibre and a
more plentiful supply of ammunition.
On-one occasion, the enemy had troubled us with rather
large number of his heavy mortar bombs, thus causing
considerable damage, and our artillery was telephoned to
reply and silence them. We were instructed to withdraw from
the front trench to the support line, and a battery of our
artillery opened fire with very large shells. I looked over
the top of the trench and watched them exploding on the
enemy trench, blowing a timber and sandbags into the air.
The result was apparently satisfactory, for we had a rest
from the bombs .
A deep winding communication trench followed its way to
the front line; this we appreciated after being used to
taking a chance over flat open country.
I had been kept busy with casualties. One night, when a
traverse of the trench was occupied by three of the New
Army who had come up for instruction, an enemy mortar
bomb landed amongst them. I hurried to their assistance
and found the trench completely knocked in and the men
It was pitch dark and I was handicapped by being unable
to show even a glimmer of light, or a machinegun would
have immediately opened fire upon that part of the
trench which now had a big gap in it . Groping in the
mud, I discovered that one man had been killed but that
the others were living.
The two survivors I managed to drag into a small dugout
nearby and after carefully screening the doorway with
sacks, lit a candle stump and proceeded to render all
One man had a leg blown away and the other was peppered all
over with small wounds. The former, after attention was
taken to the dressing station but the latter died in my
arms. I felt particularly sorry for the poor fellows
because it was their first visit to the line and they had
only been in the trench for about hour. Added to those
casualties were eleven men of the Engineers who were gassed
whilst engaged in digging a mine.
We spent six days in the line and were then relieved by a
battalion of the New Army and marched back to Helencourt a
few miles behind the line. Here we were paraded in a
field and inspected by Lord Kitchener.
After four days of fatigue work digging trench behind the
town of Albert, etc. we returned to the front line at
Aveluy. In addition to the usual incidents three items of
The Brigadier made a tour of inspection of the front line.
This particular sector was quiet, which would no doubt
account for the appearance of the General and his Staff,
for they generally kept well to the rear when any activity
was evidenced. The General passed along the trench, halted,
and having enquiry as to whether it was safe to look over
the gingerly hoisted himself on to the firing step, looked
over the top and took a hurried glance at the enemy trench
He stepped down into the trench not having been fired upon
during the moment he had looked over the top, informed the
Captain of my company that as it was so quiet, it was
possible that the Germans were not occupying their front
trench and that, as a test a tunic and cap were to be
placed on a rifle and held just above the top of the
trench, whilst he continued his inspection of the sector.
Upon his return, we would examine the tunic and, if found
to be riddled could be safely assumed that the enemy had
not forgotten the war and gone home.
We knew quite well that the enemy occupied his trench in an
exceedingly efficient manner, by reason of the rapid fire
to which we had been subjected.
However, as soon as the General had passed on and the tunic
and cap had been exposed as ordered the Captain whispered
hurried instructions to severel of the men to open fire on
the tunic with their rifles; when the staff returned, ample
evidence was afforded of the activity of the enemy. The
Captain knew perfectly well that, had the clothing by some
unforeseen chance not been bullet ridden, parties would
have been detailed to go over to the enemy trench after
dark and investigate.
None of us were exactly excited at the prospect.
Whilst in this part of the line, small parties of men, under
a non-commissioned officer, were allowed to go back behind
the reserve line, where a number of tubs had been utilized
for baths at a partially demolished brewery.
My turn, with others, came along and about half a dozen set
off and in due course, halted at the corner of a road to
await the arrival of the corporal who had been delayed. The
Brigadier appeared on the scene and the following dialogue
took place . .
"Well, you men, and what are you doing?"
"We have received permission to go back for a bath, Sir, and
are awaiting the corporal".
"Baths, eh. jolly good idea". "Tell, whilst we're here,
let's have a rifle inspection" .
(general, consternation amongst us, for we had just left the
trenches which were deep in mud) . We "port arms" for
inspection and stood in readiness for the ordeal. The
Brigadier squinted down the barrel of the first man's rifle
and the conversation was resumed
"Bit dirty, isn't it?"
"Yes, Sir" (he passed-to the next)
"You've got a short rifle of the Regular Army pattern; where
did you get it?"
"I have just returned from hospital, Sir, and it was issued
to me. When I left to return to my battalion" .
"Can you do anything with it?"
"I haven't tried yet, Sir. I only re joined the battalion
"Haven't tried it yet?". "My boy, if I had a new rifle, I'd
go straight up to the front trench and fire some rounds to
see how I got on".
(he passed to. the next man)
"This is a dirty one, is'nt it?". "Where did you say you
"Back to get a hot bath, Sir".
(on to next man)
"Just move the bolt backwards and forwards".
(this was done and a rasping noise was the result)
"Bit rusty, isn't it?. You say that you are going back for
hot baths; well, my boys, if I were you, I should get into
some hot water and have a good wash and, if you take my tip,
you'll take your rifles in with you and give them a good
soaping as well"
The General was quite a dear old man and very human.
Fourteen British aeroplanes passed over in formation, on
a bombing expedition, and all the men in the trench sent
up a loud cheer, which apparently disturbed the Germans
and conveyed to them the impression that we were about
to attack, for they immediately lined their trench and
opened a heavy fire with rifle machineguns . We kept low
in the trench and smiled.
The colonel, on learning of the incident, issued an
order that we were to again cheer at the same time on
the following day, and that our artillery would
immediately plaster the enemy trench with shrapnel
shells as soon as he manned it and opened fire.
We did as ordered but the enemy was not to be caught the
same way twice, so he did not take any notice of our
cheering and consequently, the artillery swept his
trench whilst doubtless he was well under cover tucked
away in his dugouts.
At dawn, on one occasion we saw a flag on our barbed
wire entanglements in front of the trench. Apparently
during the night some enterprising German had crawled
across and fixed it. The previous day, a draft of new
officers had arrived and one young fellow who looked
about nineteen years of age, was most interested in the
flag and annoyed at the temerity of the enemy in placing
it there which could only be looked upon as an insult to
the British Army.
He stated his determination to go out after dark and
bring it in. The old campaigners viewed the whole
business with distrust and strongly advised the officer
to be very careful. Acting upon advice, he set off after
dark with a sergeant and one man armed with a ball of
string with the intention of tying the string to the
flag, returning to the trench whilst unwinding the ball
and then hauling in the offending object. When he
reached his objective however, he unfortunately appeared
to lose his head and instead of carrying out the
arrangement, took hold of the flag and dragged it out of
the ground. An enemy bomb had been attached and it
exploded and killed the officer and wounded the sergeant
and man .
An enemy machinegun which had been trained on the spot,
also opened fire.
One afternoon, when the war was behaving itself and
things were pretty quiet I was sitting in a small
dugout with my companion, Geordie Adams, and I
thought it would be rather amusing to pass the time
by writing a few lines about certain men of the
platoon. The following rather painful effort ensued -
About the 5th Seaforths,
I'm going to write,
Of platoon No. 8., the boys who can fight. I'm
not in the slightest a poet I know, But we 're
not downhearted, as these verses will show.
Geordie Adams, the wag, must be placed at the top,
For his jokes and good humour are best of the lot,
And when there ' s hard work to be done, you must
know, His funny remarks keep us all on the go.
Then there ' s old Billy Butler, a good hearted chap,
A better could never be found on the map, but
he loses his things, it ' s remarkable quite,
And a jolly good thing that his head is on
Hatfield, the O.T.C. man of renown,
(An English chappie from old London Town),
his weakness well known for an argument heated,
And a great disapproval of being defeated .
Of old Billy Steward, theme must be a mention,
(I think he would like to retire on a pension) .
He doesn't seem pleased with the way we are treated;
Perhaps though his views better not be repeated .
Duncan Thompson, the bomber, I musn't forget,
(He hasn't done much in the bombing line yet),
Of his weakness for love yarns, he 'd better take heed
And not keep on asking for novels to read.
Now tall Private Humphrey, (nicknamed as "The Spider"),
Shuns cheap cigarettes, like the brand of "Rough Rider"
He' s a nut, there 's no doubt, of the very first order
And gives all the "howwid wuff" chaps the cold shoulder
Of his bosom pall Luff, I've a few words too say,
(A very nice fellow in every way),
But rust on his rifle gave cause for reflection
And earned for all, extra rifle inspection.
Now Lance Corporal Narrower, (known always as
"sandy ") In every lark is sure to be handy
Such being the case, it 's a pretty sure crook,
For his bosom chum Mickie you've not far to look.
Hunter's a comic, there is no evasion,
He gets in a "mist" on every occasion.
The items that interest fellows the most,
Are the jolly big parcels he gets in the post.
Cracknel and Miller are two fellows fine
Who love each other with love devine
But a sad feud exists between the two messes
For each one better food than the other professes
Now Couper's the boy who cuts the barbed wire
(When "out", he sets the whole village on fire)
And oft in the distance, 'tis a most common thing,
To hear his deep voice and loud laughter ring.
A few of the boys I have mentioned here,
And the rest - well they're all of them of good
So anxious their bit for old England to do
To fight for their dear folks (the home slackers too)
Our battalion is one of the best of the lot
(Although the others would say we are not),
Being favoured, it causes them many regrets
And we're given the name of The Brigadier's Pets'
We're known by the English battalions as "jocks",
(The boys who will make the Huns pull up their socks)
We give them rounds rapid, at times unawares,
Being nervous , they light the whole front up with flares
I think that enough of this rubbish I've written
(With the phrasing, I know, you can never be smitten)
But it 's rather a joke and it ' s something to do
So I trust it may prove some amusement to you.
We were relieved and moved back to our Testing place' at
Helencourt for a few days. A German aeroplane flew over and
we expected to be bombed but from behind a cloud, a British
machine appeared and we witnessed a thrilling fight.
Suddenly a wing of the enemy plane crumpled up and the
machine burst into flames and crashed to earth nearby; we
all cheered heartily.
We returned to the line and occupied the reserve trenches at
the village of Autuille where we originally took over from
the French. We were detailed, in turn, for fatigue work in
the front line trench, digging a listening sap.
A tunnel was dug under the parapet and a trench which
extended for about fifty feet was made at rightangles to the
front line trench. During the night it was the duty of two
sentries to sit at the end of the sap and watch and listen.
On one occasion, whilst two men were on duty but not on the
alert, they were surprised by the sudden appearance the head
of a German over the top and a revolver pointed at them.
They were told, in a whisper, to surrender and come out of
the sap and over to the enemy lines. One of the sentries was
a Glasgow miner who didn't appear to know the meaning of the
word fear; he grabbed a bomb and, without waiting to pull
out its safety pin, suddenly hurled it at his enemy and,
striking him between the eyes, stunned him. The victim was
dragged into the sap and along the trench to the front line
and duly transported to the rear as a prisoner.
In my dugout, in reserve, we converted an old biscuit
tin (by perforating the sides with a bayonet) into
quite a good brazier and, with the aid of coke
thieved from the cooks, made a good fire on which we
boiled water in our messtins and made cocoa.
Another draft of men arrived from Scotland and
battalion was nearly at its full strength again.
Whilst out on rest again at Henencourt, I was excused the
usual fatigue work because, during the last period in the
trenches, I had upset a tin of boiling tea over my leg and
taken the skin off my shin. I received the Doctors exemption
from duty. The battalion was engaged upon a route march and
I was envied my burnt leg by the rest on account of my
missing the parade.
That evening we enjoyed an impromptu concert at which the
Brigadier and other officers attended. A rough platform had
been erected and I accompanied the items on a piano which
had been obtained from a large chateau nearby.
The Brigadier made a speech and handed out the usual A soft
soap' . In the chateau resided a French Countess and the
house was used as Headquarters by the Staff
One of the officers of the battalion was very clever at
writing up words of a topical nature for songs.
During a previous inspection by the Colonel, he discovered
that one of the glass eye pieces of the gas mask (called
smoke helmet) belonging to a man named Mackay was cracked
and he drew the Company Commander's attention to the
seriousness of a man going into a gas attack with a leaky
helmet which would probably prove fatal to the wearer. The
following song was written and sung by an officer -
The army Corps sent out a note, battalion commanders
to warn, their men, that on any and every pretext
Or for any excuse in this world or the next, The smoke
helmet must never be torn.
And the days rolled placidly by, until at inspect ion
one morn, When the Colonel discovered that Private Mackay
Had broken the window that covered his eye, And the
front of his helmet was torn.
The CO. for his subaltern sent, who was standing and
looking forlorn, He said, "Half of your men- are
improperly dressed And one has a beard reaching down
to his chest. Whilst another's smoke helmet is
t orn " .
From Brigade to Division it went, and General Headquarters
made mourn, And the Master of Ordnance made an
indent, And a hundred and twenty smoke helmets were
sent, For the one that Mackay had torn.
The setting up of a Divisional Concert Party was considered
at that tine, so that battalions out on rest could have
amusement behind the lines. Whilst "resting" we could hear a
heavy bombardment taking place in the line and imagined some
poor devils going through it.
We had a concert each evening and one night following an
enjoyable show, we had no sooner got to sleep in our barn
than the alarm went and a scramble took place to get into
our kit and parade.
It was, however, another false alarm which had been
ordered by the General. After he had timed our turn out we
went back to sleep.
The latest innovation was a battalion canteen, where
eatables, cigarettes, etc. could be obtained at reasonable
I heard of the Zeppelin raid and its visit to Guildford
and most relieved to learn that none of the folks at home
We returned to the firing line in Aveluy Wood but nothing of
special interest occurred. A small light railway ran up to
the reserve and fatigue parties were detailed from the front
trench to collect the rations and mails. On one occasion we
were at the railhead unloading and the enemy suddenly opened
with shrapnel .
The ground was deep in mud and we made frantic dives for
cover and remained there until the shelling ended. I dived
under the small iron railway truck and lay there. When
things had quietened down we stood up and I had to laugh; we
looked such sketches and were plastered from head to foot
The next time we returned to the line, we occupied trenches
at Thiepval, where we were about seventy yards from the
enemy. My company relieved another of the 6th Argylls who
were most nerve wracked and spoke in whispers. We were
informed that the sector was a particularly hot one and
that, throughout the day and night, the enemy fired
Mininwerfer projectiles into the front trench. These
missiles were about the size of a dustbin and weighed about
two hundred pounds, each being filled with high explosive.
In order that the discharge of the gun might not be heard,
the enemy fired his machineguns at the same time. The
missiles were fired into the air to a great height and could
be seen turning over and over on their way down and when
they struck the ground with a thud and exploded, the noise
was terrific and the concussion, enormous.
The Company of Argylls had had a very bad time and
suffered a great many casualties. The trench was
flattened out in parts and had to be vacated until it
When we took up our position we found the trench and the
dugouts smashed flat and, on the tree stumps, pieces of
kilts could be seen fluttering (the sole remains of some of
the men who had been blown up) .
Whilst occupying this part we kept extremely quiet so that
the enemy would not be certain that the trench was actually
occupied. We had rather a rough time. Periodically we were
subjected to the missiles but our casualties were lighter
than those suffered by our predecessors. Once or twice we
had to dig out men who were buried in their dugouts.
On Lord Kitcheners birthday, we set up a loud cheer and so
annoyed the enemy that he plastered our front with trench
mortar bombs and shells of all sizes.
The Germans shouted across, in English, each time that
a salvo fell around us - "What do you think of those?".
When things had quietened down, we again caused annoyance
by singing "Rule Britannia" and once more the enemy shelled
us. At the end, we gave a loud cheer and our artillery was
telephoned to reply.
They plastered the German trench with large shells and each
time a salvo went over, the men shouted out "What do you
think of those, Fritz?" We heard a whistle blown in the
enemy line, which was the call for stretcher-bearers, and
knew that some of our shells had been effective.
At dawn one morning, we were amazed to see a non
commissioned officer of the enemy pacing the distance
between the British and German saps. One of our sentries
fired and the offender fell. Later, a German shouted
across "What have you done, with our Sergeant major?" .
The questioner was promptly informed "He's na plus, finis' .
After many uncomplimentary remarks being exchanged, the
enemy artillery opened on us and the argument terminated. In
view of the action of the sergeant major who might have been
planning a bombing raid, we kept a sharp look out that night
but nothing happened.
A bombing raid on the enemy trench was arranged and we duly
set off with pockets filled with bombs. I also carried a
large bag of bandages.
The party crept across no man's land and lay down close to
the German barbed wire entanglements. Men with wire cutters
silently cut a small path to enable us to pass through and,
at a given signal, the trench was rushed and bombs were
We jumped into the trench and proceeded along it, throwing
bombs into the dugouts. We returned to our trench without
losing a man.
■"Resting' once more, we were engaged on the usual fatigue
work. The first day we were inspected by the Major. This
took place in the pouring rain and when it was over we had
to dry our things. We were transported, in motor lorries,
to a neighbouring village and engaged upon road mending.
Batteries of our guns in position near the side of the road,
opened fire over our heads.
Back in the front line again, we returned to Thiepval and
spent another period under the fire of the Mininwerfer
missiles, suffering several casualties. Several men were bit
by enemy snipers. The communication trenches were deep in
mud and my dugout leaked water everywhere. When we left the
line we were covered in mud and looked sorry sights and it
was nice to get back for a few days rest and have a clean
up. We had several concerts and at one, the following
amusing song was sung.
The Seaforths Lament.
We are but little Seaforths meek,
We earn but seven bob a week;
the more we do, the more we may,
It makes no difference to our pay.
We dig by day, we dig by night,
Of pick and spade we hate the sight,
But when our luck we dare to curse,
We're told that things will get much worse,
There is one thing we do believe
That we're entitled to some, leave.
It's strange that we should be so nursed,
We'll get our old age pensions first.
Our hours per day are twenty four,
We thank the Lord there are no more,
For if there were, we certainly
Would work another two or three.
When from the trenches we proceed
We are inspected at great speed
And to the Major's great disgust,
He cannot find a speck of rust .
Obedience is our one watch word
And not a murmour will be heard.
If ordered to the charge, we trust,
You will not see our heels for dust.
(sung to the hymn tune - "We are but little Children Weak".
Once more we, returned to the trenches at Thiepval and
endured another spell of usual routine. We experienced
various kinds of weather and our week's occupation ended
with snow that melted and ran in rivers.
At dawn one morning, we had a party of men working out in
front of the trench repairing the barbed wire entanglements
An enemy machinegun opened and killed and wounded several.
I was kept busy bandaging and carrying the wounded down a
communication trench which as knee deep in liquid mud. The
winter seemed to be settling in and it was presumed that no
offensive could attempted until the Spring.
An unpleasant incident occurred whilst we were occupying
this sector. A man who had been with us since we had landed
in France, shot and killed himself in the dugout. The
experiences and conditions had been too much for him and
had preyed upon his mind.
A long period in the front line completed, we were relieved
and marched to reserve for six days. I was ordered to
report to the Adjutant, for my papers had come from England
regarding the granting to me of a commission in the
These papers had to be signed by the Adjutant and then
forwarded to the Brigadier for signature. The Adjutant was
a sneering individual and liked by nobody and our
conversation was similar to the following -
"And so you want a commission do you?"
"I suppose you think you are just the
right sort of person to hold one".
"Of course, you feel fully capable of
leading a body of men in an attack" .
"Alright , I'll sign your papers but you
are a damned fool; in two or three days
after you reach France again, you'll
I had to say "yes" in answer to his questions, otherwise he
would not have signed my papers but his sarcasm made me want
to hit out. I had now to wait for a further interview, by
appointment, with the Brigadier.
For the last time in France, I returned to the trenches at
Thiepval and, after two weeks in the front line, my company
dropped back into the reserve trench which was situated
about fifty yards in rear. The Mininwerfer projectiles came
right over the front trench on to the light dugouts we were
occupying and again casualties mounted up.
I was ordered one evening to proceed on foot, with another
man named Cameron, back to headquarters some miles behind
the lines to be interviewed by the Brigadier concerning the
commissions we were hoping to be granted. I was duly ushered
before this awe inspiring person to be interrogated, and the
following conversation then took place.
"I have before me, for signature, your paper regarding the
granting to you of a commission in the Hampshire
Regiment. I see that your name is Racine; are you, by any
chance, a descendant of the celebrated French dramatist of
"Yes, Sir; I have the family tree at my home".
"That is most interesting; I am a great lover of his works and
have read them all".
Whereupon he entertained me with a long description of
works and finally ended by saying, "Well, my boy, I'll be
pleased to sign your papers and wish you the best of luck.
When you join this English battalion, be sure to show them
just how we have trained you in a Scottish Regiment. I was
greatly relieved to find that his interest in my name had
entirely driven from his mind the thoughts of questioning me
on map reading and other matters.
Several fellows had been interrogated and, as their knowledge
had not been great, they had been returned to their battalion
to read up the subjects in preperation for a further
interview. I wandered back to my company in the trenches and
that it was only a matter of time before I would be
recalled to England to take up my commission. Now I had got
so far in the matter, I experienced more nervousness than I
had before known.
I had the fear of possibly being hit whilst knowing that
any day might see me on the way home. There were three of
us awaiting orders to proceed to England and we weathered
the period until the battalion was relieved, six days
later, with the exception of one man. He was sniped whilst
on sentry duty at the head of a sap, the very day that the
battalion was relieved. I realised the poor fellow's
misfortune, for we were to have left the trenches in a few
hours. I had the task of carrying him for burial and my
We were duly relieved and marched back to the village of
Bouzincourt and placed under canvas. Snow covered the
ground and we found it rather cold.
That evening, two or three of the men went to the
estaminet for some drinks but found a large card in the
window bearing the words "Reserved for Royal Engineers".
This roused the anger of the men, who forced their way
inside and a fight with some of the Royal Engineers who
resented the intrusion took place. An officer was called
and two of our men were arrested and lodged in the
guardroom. The remainder rushed off to the barn where we
quartered and told us of the incident.
All the men were furious to think that after weeks in the
front line, they should be debarred from entering the
estaminet by a handful of Engineers. About forty of us
set off at a run for the guardroom.
We stopped a short distance from the sentry and asked to
see the officer. He came out and we requested the release
of the two prisoners but he refused. We threatened to
rush the guardroom and the sentry presented his rifle at
us but, having just left the firing line where bullets
were numerous the men did not worry. The party was
getting dangerous and ultimately the officer decided to
take the line of least resistance, so freed the prisoners
on condition that they immediately returned to their
After this incident, the card was removed from the
estaminet window and the men granted admittance.
On Christmas Day, two or three of as clubbed together and,
after a certain amount of trouble, secured a goose which we
had roasted. The Colonel's wife had sent out a current loaf
for each man and we also received a half of a Christmas
pudding each which had been provided by some fund. A bottle
of French wine completed a nice dinner. On Boxing Day we had
a church parade in the morning and a route march in the
afternoon. A new order warned us to on no account mention
when we occupied or left the trenches. In comparative
safety, we listened to the guns booming forth and
sympathised with the men who had taken our place in the
After two or three days in this village, we were marched back
through Senlis to another village where the battalion was to
remain for a time whilst being refitted.
I received orders to proceed to England with a new friend
named Cameron who was also waiting to return and take up a
commission in the Hampshire Regiment. We visited all our
friends in their respective barns to say goodbye and were
wished the best of luck. I shook hands with my Guildford
friend, Ernest Gyatt, who had enlisted with me. It was the
last time that I saw him, for he was killed soon
At dawn, the following morning, we set off on an army
ammunition wagon to the railway station at Mericourt, a
number of miles away. We entrained for Havre, duly boarded a
boat at that port and reached Southampton the next morning.
I had handed in my rifle and equipment before leaving the
battalion and such odds and ends as souvenirs etc. I carried
over my shoulder in a sandbag.
I was in a delapidated condition (half of my shirt was
missing) and longed for a hot bath. I walked up to my
Aunt's house in Cavendish Grove, Southampton, and was
welcomed with opened arms. A hot bath was immediately
prepared and I lay and soaked and enjoyed myself; my part
shirt had been removed and consigned to the dustbin and
another, belonging to my cousin, placed my disposal.
My feelings were extraordinary, as I sat down to
tea in a comfortable drawing room, after months of danger
amid mud and filth. The extreme quietness seemed uncanny
and I felt as if I had been transported into another world.
I longed to see my Parents, so I entrained for
Guildford. Whilst stopped at one station (my head was
out of the carriage window and I was drinking in old
familiar scenes) , some ladies further up the train
beckoned me into their compartment. The condition
of my uniform made it apparent that I had just crossed
I was subjected to numerous questions
regarding life in the trenches, and I rather regretted
having accepted their invitation to join them.
In due course I reached home and experienced most wonderful
feeling of contentment on being with my Parents again. I was
grateful that I had come through without a scratch, when so
many of my friends had been killed.
After a good night's sleep, in a comfortable bed, I rose,
breakfasted and proceeded to London to report at the War
Office. I was granted two weeks leave in which to obtain my
new uniform, and much I made of that time in visiting my
many friends and enjoying myself before once again coming
under army discipline.
Commission training with the
I met my friend Cameron at Waterloo and we travelled to
Bournemouth together and joined, as 2nd Lieutenants,
the 2/5th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. This
was a draft finding unit for the battalions of the
Regiment which were either stationed in India or were
on active service in France and Mesopotamia.
After we had reported to the Adjutant, we were billeted
in a large house at 4, Vale Road, Boscombe, occupied by
the Misses Andrews, three maiden ladies. They made us
thoroughly at home.
During the following week or two, we drilled,
skirmished, route marched, etc. Each day a fresh batch
of raw recruits arrived to be licked into shape. We
soon settled down with our brother officers and were
treated with a certain amount of respect.
We were the only ones who had seen active service.
Bournemouth we liked immensely and many jolly times
were spent in the town. The Westover was a large roller
skating rink and we often met there and indulged in
Cameron and I were detailed to proceed to Hertford
Barracks for a course of instruction to last about a
month. After reporting to the Adjutant, we were
allotted an empty room in a house in the barrack
square. We erected our camp beds and washstands and
settled ourselves down. An orderly was detailed to each
four officers and he was responsible for the cleanlines
of their kitt, etc.
It was an officers' course of instruction and the
instructors were Regular officers from the Guards. They
were holy terrors, (which was putting it mildly) , and
viewed with contempt the officers they supervised,
being ready at every opportunity to wrech their sarcasm
upon us. The fact was constantly impressed upon us that
we could never hope to become capable army officers as
we were only civilians in disguise and not professional
soldiers as they were.
For drill purposes, we were placed in the care of a
sergeant-major of the Coldstream Guards, who, although
polite and differential to the officers under instruction,
interspersed his orders with chatty little remarks such as -
"Lift up your feet, Gentlemen; this is not a dancing class",
when we were marking time.
We rose at 6 a.m., paraded at 7 a.m, and were put through
our paces. The restrictions were unbelievable and the
decided efforts to discipline us, very severe. We were kept
at work throughout the whole day and, at night we attended
lectures and had notes to write up. The daily routine was as
7a.m. - parade and drill until breakfast time.
9.30a.m. - lectures
lp.m. - lunch
2.30p.m. - more lectures
5p.m. - tea
5.30p.m. - more lectures
7 p.m. - dinner
8 p. m. - lectures again
and then the writing up of notes until nearly midnight.
The course had the reputation of being one of the hardest in
England and I well believed it. The Colonel stated that we
had three years work to master in four weeks.
Some of the officers who took the previous course, fainted
when on parade, for night operations sometimes lasted until
2 a.m. and notes then had to be written up. In consequence
of the hard work we had scarcely any free time for leisure
but, one Saturday afternoon, I decided to have a change and
so explored the town.
Hertford seemed to have been a target for the Zeppelins,
bombs had been dropped on the town and many buildings had
suffered but were now boarded up; some of the houses had
been burned to the ground.
One night the Zepps . passed over but did not drop ay bombs;
all the inhabitants seemed very nervous and if a glimmer of
light appeared from behind a blind of a house, action was
immediately taken to rectify the matter and at night the
town was in complete darkness.
Our instruction in attack was completed and that of defence
commenced. We were taken into ploughed fields and lectured
in the pouring rain. In turn, officers assumed command of
the remainder, under the eagle eye of the Major, and issued
orders which had to be executed.
We each possessed maps of the district by which we worked.
After a lecture on billeting, we were marched to a village a
few miles distant, to try our hand at it.
There were lectures on Military Law and many other
subjects, so that we had a hazy idea of everything and
knew nothing thoroughly. We each had a pile of
text books but no tine in which to digest their content
We were informed that several officers engaged upon the
previous courses had failed in the final examination and
been returned to their battalions with adverse reports.
Extra duties were frequently given for the most trivial
offences; the following was an example. Whilst making
an attack, one officer, in order to avoid having to
throw himself down in a puddle of water, moved out of
his line of advance and selected a dry spot. The Major
noticed the manoeuvre, with the result that the officer
in question was given extra duty.
Another officer, wearing a long service ribbon, ordered
his section to "cease fire" at the wrong moment. He too
was given extra duty. It will be realised that the Major
was loved by all. Extra duty meant a lecture or other work
after the rest had finished.
On a route march during a previous course, one officer,
whilst marching at ease, sang a song which may have been
applicable to the Major. The Major evidently thought that
the cap fitted, for he took the whole parade out for a
long night attack and ordered an early parade the
Most of the officers were angry at the severity of the
discipline and muttered threats of ragging certain of the
The last lecture of the day usually commenced at 9 p.m. an
after that we had pages and pages of notes to write up
regarding the whole day's work. This kept us busy until
midnight or the early hours of the morning.
We finished at midday on Saturday, unless unfortunate
enough to have earned "extra duty", and were allowed time
off until early parade Monday morning.
I decided to go to Bedford and visit my old billet. The
good folk were delighted to see me and I talked with
several of the occupants of the other billets.
They were anxious to hear of the fate of the Seaforths who
had been quartered with them before going to France. Late
on Sunday evening, I returned to the barracks and resumed.
After the final lectures on Administration and
Organization, etc., we entered, with considerable
misgiving, for the numerous examinations. In due course a
list of those who had passed, with the number of marks
allotted, was posted on the board. Much to my surprise I
was placed fairly high, although heaven alone knows how it
was achieved. Quite a number of officers failed to secure
the minimum number of qualifying marks and were returned
to their battalions with adverse reports.
I rejoined the Regiment at Bournemouth for a week or
two and was then detailed to attend another use of
instruction in musketry and the Lewis gun at Hayling
Island. I was billeted in a large house named A The
Towers' which was situated right on the sea front.
In the grounds were tennis courts and I had some
splendid games in the evenings. At the bottom of the
garden a summerhouse had been erected in which was a
rustic table also chairs. This commanded a clear view
out to sea and I often sat there in the evenings and
wrote up my notes .
This course lasted for four weeks and although we had to
cram and write up copious notes, I hed a far more
comfortable time than I experienced during the Hertford
I was in possession of a motor cycle and spent
the weekends at Southampton.
The course duly ended and, after the results of the
examinations had been posted, I returned to Bournemouth and
joined the battalion.
Recruits continued to arrive and were gradually
knocked into shape by the sergeants. We were taken
for long route marches and participated in field
days, trench digging, etc., which continued for a few
The battalion then received orders to proceed to Romsey
where we were placed under canvas; battalions of the
Wilts, Dorsets, etc. were with us.
Training was resumed and drafts made efficient for
despatch to the battalions on service. I had to attend
an examination in drill and general field work and
managed to pass the tests.
Next I was sent to Salisbury Plain for musketry
and, after firing my course and passing out as a "first
class shot", was kept at the camp as an officer in charge of
butts. For the next week or two I was responsible for the
registering of the targets and the return of the firing
tests carried out by the men from the various Battalions.
In due course I returned to Romsey and decided to take up
signalling. This included the morse code, operated by
electric buzzers, flags, lamps, heliographs etc. Also the
laying of field telephones. After dark we sent and received
messages in morse by lamp.
Each Sunday the battalion attended Church parade and those
of Church of England denomination held their services in
I was detailed as officer in charge of the small body of
nonconformists and marched my party independently to their
Many evenings and weekends I spent in Southampton. I had
disposed of my motor cycle (expecting to be detailed at any
moment to be sent overseas) and had acquired an ordinary
push cycle. Several times, at night, I returned to Romsey
after an enjoyable time, being compelled to ride on the rim
of the wheel owing to punctures.
During these rides I was dismount and listgen to the
nightingales singing in the trees.
I returned to camp on one occasion, and saw the searchlights
being operated in the Portsmouth area. It transpired that a
Zeppelin had visited the town and dropped bombs but no
serious damage was done.
The training proceeded day by day and drafts were
periodically sent overseas. I awaited my movement orders.
On returning to camp one evening I found a note from
Adjudant lying on my camp bed. It informed me that I had
been detailed to proceed somewhere east. I was granted a few
days leave, in which time to procure tropical kit, so I
returned to my home and spent a pleasant holiday.
I returned to Romsey and after a short period, received
orders to leave. I was placed in charge of a draft
consisting of two officers and two hundred men.
Several kit inspections followed and, after the transport
had been loaded, we marched in the rain and headed by the
band to Romsey station. We entrained for Devonport . The
inhabitants gave us a good send off. We travelled throughout
the night, stopping at Exeter at 4am where the Mayoress and
friends dispensed tea, cakes and cigarettes to the men. We
reached Devonport at 6.30am and embarked on the S.S.
'Orontes' (Orient Line) .
I had several hundred pounds in cash which had been handed
to me by the Adjudant before leaving with which to pay the
men. I was thankful to have it safely placed in the safe in
the pursers office.
The two officers in the draft were exceedingly nice fellows.
One was Cameron who came with me to the battalion from
France. The other was named Vize (a musical comedy actor) .
Cameron and I shared a comfortable cabin together. We found
out that our ultimate destination was to be India, but that
owing to the submarine menace, the route would follow the
coastline the whole way until we reached South Africa and
not via the Suez canal.
Voyage to South Africa
and service in South Africa.
We experienced a bad storm whilst crossing the Bay of
Biscay and I was very seasick and wished that the boat
would go to the bottom.
The transport that left Devonport previous to ours was
During the many days that followed, we kept ourselves amused
by either playing deck games such as tennis, cricket,
quoits, etc. or reading books. There was a good library
aboard and I read the books by W.W.Jacobs which I found to
be most amusing.
Each morning the troops were paraded for physical drill and
roll call. During the nights, the portholes of the ship,
which had all been blackened, were kept closed so that no
light could betray us to an enemy submarine; we had each
been issued with a lifebelt, which had to be constantly in
our possession although not actually worn. The officers
and men were allotted boat, stations and periodically, a
bell was sounded and the ship's siren blown to signal the
alarm; the men had to at once don their lifebelts and parade
at their respective boat stations on deck. Sometimes the
alarm went during the night and we had to hurriedly dress,
don lifebelts, and scramble up on to deck; we never knew
when an enemy submarine might put in an appearance, so when
the alarm I sounded, a general rush took place.
The food was excellent and we sat down to meals in a
comfortable dining room. Breakfast was served at 8.30 am,
beef tea taken on deck at 11.30 am., lunch at 1 pm, tea at 4
p.m. , and dinner at 7 p.m.
Being out of sight of land, with nothing but a huge expanse
of water to gaze at day after day, it became a little
monotonous but it was certainly much preferred to the
trenches of France.
On Sunday mornings, a short service was held in the well of
the ship. The remainder of the day was spent in games etc.
We had proceeded for some two thousand miles before we saw
the first tramp steamer going in the opposite direction;
this was quite an item of interest.
Some afternoons, sports were arranged for the men and races
held on deck; the officers subscribed money for prizes. A
sweepstake, on the mileage travelled by the boat, was held
each day; the distance was generally in the neighbourhood of
three hundred miles.
On the eve of crossing the line, the following notice
appeared on the ship's board -
H. M. T. "Orontes".
KNOW YE, ALL YE WHOP IT MAY CONCERN - That I, neptune,
- King of ye High Seas -
Hearing ye good Ship "Orontes" carrieth many strangers
through my Dominions, know ye that I, on the third day of
November, at three in the afternoon, with my Wife
Aphrodite and Court, my Doctor and Barber, will board the
aforesaid ship to perform ye ancient Rites of Enrolment of
these strangers to ye Ancient Order of Salts - Drowning
such as, in the opinion of my Court, are not fit for such
Given under my hand and seal this second day of November, in
the year of our lord, one thousand, nine hundred and
The following day at the time stated, Neptune appeared (with
his Court), dressed in the appropriate costumes. He was
pulled round the deck in an improvised chariot, preceeded by
a "band" consisting of a cornet and a triangle. A large sail
had been prepared in the shape of a bath (in the well of the
ship) , and a platform was erected, upon which Neptune and
his Court gathered; the water in the bath was about three
The names of the several officers, who had to undergo the
initiation, had been posted on the notice board and the men,
numbering some hundreds, were grouped around to witness the
fun of their officers being ducked. The officers, each in
turn, were presented to Neptune and he handed them on to the
Barber (who possessed a bucket of white lather and an
enormous razor about three feet long) and he sat each victim
in a chair, lathered the whole of his face with the aid of a
whitewash brush, and proceeded to shave him; the doctor then
administered mustard pills.
The victim, who was fully dressed in drill uniform, was then
grabbed and thrown head over heels into the bath, where some
of Neptune's attendants were going to receive him, and
ducked three times; even the ships officers, in their nicely
starched drill uniforms, were subjected to the ceremony. Of
course, the men were delighted and cheered madly.
I thoroughly enjoyed the fun, which I witnessed from the top
deck - being under the impression that I was safe at that
distance. Apparently, however, some of my men drew Neptune's
attention to me, for in a short time I was seized by several
of the attendants and carried down companion ways and along
corridors, struggling madly, until finally deposited on the
platfc before Neptune. I was fully dressed in my uniform
but shaved, doctored and thrown into the bath, much to the
keen enjoyment of the men of my draft. Following my
initiation, I was presented with a printed certificate which
stated as follows -
His Most Watery Majest;
H«rcby grants ..
the Freedom /iftXe Seas, he having been duly shorn,
shaved., and qipped, in accordance witli ye Ancier;
Rite's <>f ' Ye -Igohle Order of Salts.
'• for NeptunA Rex
11. M. J*. Qrontes,
*! J 1. I ft.
In the evening, a concert was given and I had to contribute
three or four songs .
On Guy Fawkes Day, the stokers made an effigy of the Kaiser
and carried it round the deck; it was then strung up at the
yard arm and the officers peppered it with bullets from
Once a week I held a parade of the men and paid them. The
money in my care gradually dimished.
On one of these occasions, when I was sitting at the table
surrounded by money, the alarm sounded and everybody dashed
on to deck wondering whether it was a genuine one. I stayed
and gathered up the money, for I had no wish to return and
find it depleted, should the alarm prove to be false.
One of any occupations was the censoring of the mens
letters, which at times proved to be most amusing; one wrote
that we had encountered enemy submarines. Some of the
experiences depicted by the men were weird and wonderful.
The further we progressed on our voyage, the warmer it
became and we assumed our uniforms of drill and kept the
electric fans in our cabins going the whole time.
At dawn, after three weeks at sea, we sailed into Table Bay
and had our first sight of land; Table Mountain presented a
wonderful appearance, being outlined against a most glorious
sunrise. As we proceeded across the bay, we were gradually
able to discern houses at the foot of the mountain and,
later, to see the town itself; we berthed at about 7 a.m.
and breakfasted on board.
The troops were then inspected and taken ashore at Cape
Town, dismissed, and instructed to parade again on the quay
at 3 p.m., thus giving them six hours ashore whilst the boat
My brother officers and I walked into the town and, after
exploring Cecil Rhodes Gardens and other places of interest,
chartered a taxi and drove to the fashionable place named
Miuizenburg, about thirty miles distant; we
ran into an army waggon en route but only slightly damaged
the car. We passed several Kaffir kraals and duly reached
our destination; an hour and a half soon passed in this
delightful place, which was crowded with people. The weather
was perfect and resembled a hot day in Summer in England;
the sky was without a cloud. A lovely bay with mountains
surrounding it, provided excellent surf riding for the many
bathers and, after partaking of a tea of strawberries and
cream, we returned to Cape Town and lunched in a cafe. Later
we visited the many splendid shops and made sundry
purchases. It seemed strange to mix with so many black
Gardiner street, Durban
West street, Durban
We returned to the quay, boarded the boat and steamed
away about 4.30 p.m. A number of people had assembled
and they gave us a cheer as we left.
We passed fairly close to the coast and left the Cape of
Good Hope behind us.
The daily routine was resumed, with games etc., and we
witnessed several forest fires which were taking place on
the main land.
We passed Port Elisabeth and New London and ultimately
reached Durban at about 3 a.m. one day.
The previous evening, we had a final dinner on board and
many healths were toasted.
We paraded and marched to a rest camp on the sea front and
were placed under canvas. It took the whole of the morning
to get my draft of two hundred men settled and I afterwards
strolled into the town for lunch. Durban was a splendid
place and its buildings magnificent. Each morning we bathed
in the enclosure provided on the beach which was surrounded
by a barred iron grill about eight feet high; the bay was
infested with sharks and precaution was necessary.
Opposite, on the other side of the bay, was a point
called The Bluff, with a lighthouse at the top. There
was a whaling station on the point and whales could be
seen drawn up on the slipways; daily we could see the
whalers in the bay and hear the noise of discharge of
the harpoon guns.
It was refreshing to see all the shops lit up and the
promenade festooned with coloured electric lamps, after
the darkness of England. There were two theatres and
several cinemas, and I could have enjoyed a freer time
had I been unattached to the camp, as were some
officers; having the responsibility of the draft, there
was always some duty to be attended to, such as the
daily signing of passes for the men to go into the town,
paying them, etc.
When we left England, I had only been supplied with
sufficient money to pay the men during the shorter route
to South Africa, via the Suez Canal, and as we come all
the way round the coast, I had a very small balance in
hand. Soon as the men found themselves in Durban, they at
once applied for money to spend and I had to seek out the
Base Paymaster and requisition for cash, which was handed
to me in Kruger money.
Certain calculations had then to be entered into when
paying the men, for some received this money whilst
others, English currency. I wondered what would happen
when we arrived in India with a balance of Kruger money
in hand for this money would not be accepted either on
board or in India.
We thoroughly enjoyed the hot climate and spent happy
days playing tennis and exploring. The inhabitants were
exceedingly hospitable and many men were invited to the
houses and entertained; I became very friendly with a
lady and her daughter and spent some pleasant evenings at
Two evenings after we had arrived, an officer and
I went to the "Criterion Theatre", where a revue called
"The Million Dollar Girl" was being performed. At the
interval, he and I sent round our cards on which the
following was written - "Would the ladies please take
pity upon two lonely officers who were miles away from
home, and would be grateful for their company to supper".
At the end of the performance, two lady members of the
cast joined us at a neighbouring hotel for supper.
During our stay in Durban, we became acquainted with the
members of the Company and, each morning, bathed with
In the afternoons, we would sometimes hire a motor
boat take the girls across to The Bluff for tea, returning
in time for their appearance at the theatre in the evening.
Several evenings, after their performance, we adjourned to a
hotel where we danced the best part of the night; I was in
demand and spent most of the time at the piano playing dance
mu s i c .
On several occasions, we dined at the Royal Hotel; this
hotel was accepted as being the one of Durban.
The buildings of the town were particularly attractive,
especially that of the Post Office and the Town Hall, which
were magnificent structures; the Zoological Gardens were
most interesting. Electric tramcars ran to most parts and,
in the evenings, crowds of theatre goers were seen in their
cool silk clothes.
After a week or so in glorious surroundings, we marched to
the docks and embarked aboard the s . s . "Aregon" , one of the
boats of the Royal Mail Line. By lunch time all the men were
quartered and a number of civilians, who gathered to see
them off, amused themselves by throwing up oranges to the
troops who were leaning over deck rail.
Information was received that the boat would not sail until
midnight at the earliest, and officers only were granted
permission to go ashore until 10 p.m.
The men felt disappointed at being refused leave and amused
themselves, each time an officer went down the gangway, by
chanting in unison - "We don't want to go ashore; we
wouldn't if we had the chance".
Voyage from South Africa
and service in India
In due course the "Aregon" left and we resumed the daily
routine, playing games on deck, etc. The days slipped
along and, in crossing the Indian Ocean, less restriction
was enforced regarding the showing of lights from
portholes etc., owing to the submarine menance being
At night, we witnessed the most glorious sunsets imaginable,
such as are only seen in the East . The sun appeared to
disappear behind the horizon like a ball of fire and rays of
light reflected all the most wonderful colours. To add to
the charm, the sea had scarcely a ripple upon it and schools
of porpoises and flying fish could be seen.
It was very hot and I wore a white shirt with open neck,
sleeves rolled, white drill trousers and a pith helmet; the
perspiration ran from me in streams and I disliked wearing a
stiff collar when dressed for dinner.
One evening, whilst sitting at dinner, I saw the steward
standing close to the Captains table; our eyes met and we
recognised one another. I had met him many years before at
Southampton and knew his Father, a captain of a Royal Mail
boat, and his brothers; after dinner, we renewed
acquaintance and many evenings I visited him in his cabin
On the eve of our arrival in India, I was standing on deck
when one of the ship's officers turned to me said -
"sniff"; I did so.
"Smell anything", he asked.
"Yes". I replied; "A kind of musty smell".
"That's India" he said; "We can always smell it some hours
before sighted and we shall be there soon" .
Early in the morning, we reached Bombay and after
breakfast, I went ashore and, after a search, managed to
locate the Paymaster and requisitioned more money with
which to pay the men; this time I received Indian
currency, rupees, etc.
On my return to the boat, I found an Officer from the
Hampshire Battalion waiting to conduct us to
Secunderabad, our new station.
I paraded the men and we entrained, travelling for two
days and nights, breaking our journey at Poona, Wadi,
etc. for meals. We ultimately reached our destination.
The battalion band was awaiting us and we marched to
The men were handed over to the sergeant-major and my
brother officers. Cameron, Vize, and I were duly
allotted quarters; we each had were kept moving by
natives, to cause a current of air to pass through the
Parades commenced at 6.30 a.m., physical drill until
8 a.m., and drill etc. from 9 a.m. until 11.30 a.m. The
men were then finished for the day, unless detailed for
guard in the evening, but the officers had to attend the
orderly Room at 12.15 p.m. for a few minutes each day;
Thursday was a holiday and no parades were held.
We had lunch at 1 p.m. and at all meals ray butler stood
behind my chair and attended to my needs. Each afternoon
we lay on our beds, under mosquito nets, and endeavoured
to sleep whilst perspiring profusely. At 4 p.m. tea and
biscuits were brought to us and as by then the temperature
had become more bearable, we often played tennis on the
hard courts until the bugle sounded the call to dress.
We then returned to our bungalows, where hot baths were
ready and mess kits, consisting of starched white drill
cut-away short coats and tight trousers which fastened
with straps under patent leather Wellington boots, a red
cummerbund and a white-shirt with stiff winged collar and
a black dress bow were laid out in readiness to be placed
upon us by our butlers.
As soon as the bugle sounded the officers call to mess, we
left our bungalows, preceeded by the butlers who carried
lighted hurrican lamps and kept a look out lest we should
step on snakes.
Etiquette was strictly observed and the officers gathered
in the ante-room sipping appetisers, awaiting the arrival
of the Colonel. The Mess President would then, when
informed by the Mess Sergeant, approach the Colonel and
address him with the words "Dinner is served, Sir" .
The Colonel would then proceed to the dining room,
followed by the rest of the officers in their order of
seniority, who stood by their chairs and waited for the
Colonel to be seated before following his example; the
meal then proceeded.
The Mess President sat at one end of the table and the
Orderly Officer the other. Following dessert the wine would
be passed round and glasses charged, whereupon the Mess
President would rise and address the Orderly Officer in the
following words - "Mr Vice, The King"; he, in turn, would
rise and say, "Gentlemen, The King" . All officers would then
rise to their feet and, with glasses charged and raised,
toast the King. On guest nights, the table was prettily
decorated with festoons of flowers and the regimental silver
The battalion band played on the lawn throughout dinner
And, during the toast to the King, the National Anthem
was played. The native butlers, in their long white
drill coats and trousers with turbans and regimental
cummerbunds added to the picturesqueness of the scene.
Nobody was permitted to smoke until the Colonel had lit up,
or allowed to leave the table until he had risen or special
permission had been granted. The only officer not in mess
kit was the Orderly Officer; he had other regimental duties
to perform after dinner. The disciplin and etiquette were
most strictly observed and on one occasion, a junior
officer, who was talking to a neighbour, inadvertantly
rested his elbow on the table which caused the Colonel to
remark.- "Mr, as you are apparently tired, I think you had
better withdraw during dinner" .
After dinner, many of the officers adjourned to the card or
billiard rooms. Dinner was looked upon as a parade and
officers had to obtain special permission to absent
themselves; punctuality was insisted upon and woe betide a
late arrival; he would be subjected to a most scathing
lecture by the Colonel.
On Sundays, supper was served, instead of dinner, and
civilian evening dress was worn instead of mess kit.
As soon as daily parades were over, officers were allowed
to change into civilian clothes; in the mornings I went
Life in India was one of luxuary and native servants were
engaged to perform even the smallest services. For example,
if I sat in my bungalow and wanted an article which was
lying at the other side of the room, or a cigarette
lighted, a call would bring a servant to my aide to attend
immediately to my needs.
The natives of the district seemed to go in fear of the
white man and looked upon the British Officer as a big
white Sahib. For instance, one evening I heard a frightful
din going on outside my bungalow at the back;
went out and found about thirty natives arguing and
fighting. I shouted a few words to then and they ceased
their altercations and faded away immediately.
I found the native part of Secunderabad deserted and
walked through it without meeting a single person. All
the shops and houses had been boarded up, for the
natives had fled to the fields and erected rush huts live
in. Plague was ravishing and, on some days, deaths were
numerous and funerals an every day occurrence. According to
official figures, a hundred and fifty deaths a day took
place in the large city of Hyderabad situated a few miles
The nights were rather strange at first; Jackals prowled
in packs and set up their weird wailing howl, whilst the
frogs in the swamps croaked in chorus. Not far distant,
panthers were in evidence and, on one occasion, a man-
eating tiger caused considerable consternation at a nearby
village, by appropriating some of the residents and making
The draft had been inspected several times by various
officers in high command. One incident rather amused me.
Colonel Day, of the big engineering firm Day Summers & Co,
inspected the draft soon after its arrival; he cross
examined each man regarding his town of residence,
profession, etc. and coming to one man, a conversation
similar to the following took place -
Colonel. "Where is your home?".
Man "Southampton, Sir".
Colonel. "What is your profession?"
Man. "Engineer, Sir".
Colonel. "Some little tin-pot firm, I suppose?"
Ian. "Day Summers, Sir",
(temporary collapse of the Colonel) .
After a search in Secunderabad, I managed to discover the
only respectable piano, which was a Broadwood Grand. I came
to terms with the shopkeeper regarding the hire of it, and
it was delivered and placed in my bungalow. Mr friend Vize
(the musical comedy actor) and I spent many enjoyable
Football matches were arranged and each platoon had its own
team, which entered into competition; I was delighted to
find that my platoon team were the winners of most matches.
On Christmas Day, in accordance with custom, I found about a
dozen and a half black servants waiting for me outside of
the bungalow; they each had a wreath of flowers which they
solemnly placed over my head to rest around my neck, and
murmured expressions of salutations. Needless to add, the
primary object of the display was the anticipated Christmas
Box, which in all, depleted my bank balance to the tune of
about two pounds ten shillings; my butler had quite an
elaborately iced cake made for me.
One day, whilst playing in a football match, officers
vs sergeants, I came to grief. The pitch was a gravel
one and, in falling, I slid along the ground and tore
my leg on a flint; after the match, I proceeded to the
hospital and had my leg dressed. In the East a wound
invariably turns septic and my accident kept me
hobbling about on two sticks for a fortnight. At the
end of that period it became worse and a swelling
appeared in my groin. I had to attend twice daily at
the hospital for hot f ormentat ions to be applied, and
felt a little nervous because a brother officer was
occupying a bed with a similar trouble and had had a
lump in the groin removed.
Happily, however, in my case this was not necessary
and the leg healed and the lump disappeared; I was
excused all duty for nearly a month and went for
drives into the country.
My butler, who spoke quite good English, each day
read battalion orders and informed me of any special
duty for which I might be detailed on the following day.
One evening, after dinner, I said, as usual - "Anything
special in orders, Tamby?"; he replied, "Yes; Master has
go to Rawal Pindi on a course". "Alright". I answered,
"Arrange everything". Without my giving any detailed
instructions, he ascertained the time the train left,
my compartment, had my baggage packed and placed
on a conveyance which waited outside the bungalow the
following morning, and arranged everything.
I duly entrained, with my servant, and started on the long
journey to Rawal Pindi; this entailed some days and nights
of travelling. I had a nice compartment to myself, which
possessed a comfortable couch bed and fittings.
Periodically, throughout the day, the train stopped at a
station for a length of time sufficient to enable lunch to
be taken; this usually consisted of curried rice and chicken
and my servant joined me and administered to my wants.
The first part of the journey was accomplished on the Nizam
of Hyderabad state Railway; After we had stopped for
lunch at a station on the first day I discovered, when
about a quarter of a mile on the resumed journey, that I
had left my pith helmet behind; I pulled the
communication cord and brought the train to a
standstill. Consternation took place amongst the train
officials and the guard came along and remonstrated with
me; I informed him thatl was a British officer and had
done what I considered necessary. The argument
immediately terminated and I sent my servant back to the
station for my helmet.
I would not have liked to have taken such a course on
the railways in England.
I found the journey most interesting, as I was enabled to
obtain a good idea of the country. We stopped for a time at
Lahore and I walked into the town on a tour of inspection.
The final part of the journey was very spectacular, when
passing over the mountains.
In due course, I reached my destination and was driven
to Flashman's Hotel, Rawal Pindi, where I was to be
placed under canvas; on account of the hotel being
full, I was placed under canvas nearby.
The following morning, I reported to the Adjutant
of the School for instruction and settled down to another
course of musketry. As I had already passed my examination
on a similar course at Hayling Island, I did not have to
unduly exert myself. We commenced at 8.30 a.m. and continued
until 2.30 p.m. Parades and lectures had then finished but
the usual copious notes required to be written up.
In the afternoons, I played tennis on the hard court at the
Rawal Pindi Club; sometimes, in the evenings, most exclusive
dances were held.
The town was divided, more or less, into two parts; one was
composed of Europeans and natives, whilst the other, the
native part, entirely of natives. The latter was placed out
of bounds to the troops, as the appearance of Europeans was
rather resented in that quarter; it was a common sight to
see camels and bullock drawn carts.
The weather was rather cold; snow had fallen and lay
The final days of the course were given up to examinations
and the results were duly published. On account of my former
course, I was fortunate enough to receive a "distinguished"
for the rifle and Lewis gun examinations. The course
comprised officers from regiments from all parts of India,
including Ghurkas, UK etc. and I struck up a friendship with
a subaltern of the Devonshire Regiment; we decided to break
our return journey and do a bit of prospecting.
Before leaving Rawal Pindi, on one or two occasions I
visited, in civilian clothes, the large bazaar in the native
quarter of the town and obtained some snapshots. I was
greeted with many glances which did not make me feel
too much at home, for I did not meet a white man. At
times it occurred to me that if one or two of the
inhabitants suddenly decided to haul me into a
house, stick a knife into my ribs, and rob me of my
belongings, I would not be traced.
My servant packed the baggage and my new friend and
I entrained and proceeded to Delhi, where we arrived
at 2 a.m. on a Sunday. We drove to the fashionable
hotel called "The Maiden Hotel" and tumbled into
bed. After breakfast, we set out to explore;
unfortunately it was a wet day but we chartered a
conveyance and drove to Friday Mosque and, after
inspecting some ivory work in a neighbouring shop,
went on to see the Kashmiri Gate.
This gate still bore the cannon ball marks made
during the Indian mutiny. We finished our tour by
visiting a cinema show and then entrained for Agra,
arriving there at 7 a.m.
We drove to Laurie Hotel and rested for the night. The
following day, we engaged a guide and visited the
large fort. We spent the morning inspecting the wonderful
marble and mosaics in the palaces and mosques. In the
afternoon we visited one of the wonders of the world,
the Taj Mahal .
This was constructed of white marble and inlaid
stones and was built by an Indian Price, Shah Bran,
in memory of his favourite wife. The work of building
was spread over twenty years and more than twenty
thousand men were continuously employed upon it
during that time. In the centre was a tomb surrounded
by marvellously carved and fretworked screens of most
We had to remove our boots before entering and were
provided with rush slippers. A priest intoned a note which
took twenty five seconds to gradually die away; for this
service he expected half a rupee.
We then proceeded to the tomb of Etmaduddaula, which
is situated opposite to the Taj Mahal and on the other
side of the river Jamna. This was a finely carved marble
tomb erected by a Father in memory of his Daughter. Next
we inspected a carpet factory and saw the natives making
wonderful Indian carpets by hand.
After dinner at the hotel, we joined several other
officers in a musical evening and I had to officiate at
The following day, I boarded the mail train and, in
due course, reached Secunderabad.
I found that the battalion was under canvas some
miles away, undergoing certain tests; the greater
part of this training I missed whilst on the course.
I joined them in the evening and was allotted a bell
On entering this, to my surprise, I was greeted by a cobra
snake about five feet long and made way for it to pass out
and disappear down a hole at the entrance to the tent. I
sent a man to obtain boiling water from the cooks and stood
over the hole with a tent post which had an iron
The boiling water arrived and was poured down the hole and,
as soon as the snake's head appeared hissing above the
ground, I drove the pole through it and pinned it down.
Natives watched the affair from a good distance, for they
seemed afraid of snakes. I kept an anxious look out for its
mate, for it was said, that it might possibly come along to
investigate the absence of its partner. When snakes were
killed, the men usually skinned them and made them into
The tests being ended, we returned to Gough Barracks and
settled down again. I became possessed of two small monkeys,
which slept in a box in a tree at the rear of the bungalow;
they answered to the names of "Orace" and "Bert". One of
them spent a considerable part of his existence perched upon
my shoulder, with his arms round my neck; he enjoyed looking
into the looking-glass whilst I was shaving and seemed to
rather appreciate the flavour of the shaving soap, which he
scraped from my chin, and tubes of tooth paste were
constantly being destroyed.
In the barracks we had our own mineral water plan and
various fruit drinks were made and sold to the men at cost,
price. Close to the barracks was a rifle range, where the
men carried out their firing practices.
Early one morning, the Brigade carried out an attack on a
system of trenches; I had to smile, because the whole
business was performed in a manner as little like the real
thing as it was possible to imagine; neither the Staff nor
the troops had seen active service which, no doubt,
accounted for their extraordinary ideas on the subject.
Whilst playing in another match, Officers vs. Sergeants, I
once more came to grief on the hard ground. This time I fell
on my hands, which doubled up under me. I suffered agony for
a bit and had to attend hospital for "X" ray treatment; it
was feared that I had fractured both wrists but, luckily,
they were only severely sprained. For some time I went about
with both arms in slings and later, had to attend at
hospital for massage treatment. For the second time I was
excused all parades.
The battalion proceeded on three days brigade work, fighting
rearguard actions and sleeping out and, as it was now very
hot, (over a hundred degrees in the shade) , I was lucky to
escape this part of the training. I remained behind as
officer in charge of the barracks.
Before my accident, I had commenced a course of instruction
under the supervision of an Indian Major of the 7 th Lancers,
and I was looking forward to resuming as soon as I had
recovered the use of my wrists.
At intervals, my turn as Orderly Officer came round and
the duties kept me occupied throughout the day. At 11
a.m. I attended Orderly Room and received orders, then
I inspected the large white stone bungalows in which
the men were quartered, seeing that they were swept out
and perfectly clean, with the beds correctly rolled
back, etc. During the nights, the bolts were removed
from the rifles and the men slept with them beneath
their pillows; a rifle without its bolt was useless.
All the cookhouses, mineral water factory, etc. had
then to be inspected and the issue of rations
At 1 p.m. the food was fetched by orderlies from the
cookhouses and the sky appeared to be black, by reason
of the number of hawks flying round in circles, ready
to swoop down on any unguarded piece of meat. I saw, on
more than one occasion, an unsuspecting man walk along
with a plate of meat and hawk swoop down and, in the
space of a moment, carry off a titbit.
At 6 p.m. the new guard had to be inspected and sentries
posted round the barracks; they had to be visited twice
during the night and, as the distance between the posts
covered some miles, I performed the duty on a push cycle and
took with me a thick stick, lest attacked by
peck of snarling jackals. I enjoyed the marvellous
Indian nights which, from the brightness of the moon,
were like days; the sky was wonderfully clear and the
brilliance of the stars made them appear to almost
stand out from the sky. Then I returned to my bungalow
and passed inside, I was greeted with "good night,
Sahib" by the aged native night-watchman.
The battalion received orders to entrain for Bombay for
the Brigade was to embark for service elsewhere. We did
not know where we were being sent but presumed that we
were to be placed on garrison work; the officers were
allowed to take 800 pounds of kit, whereas if proceeding
active service, the weight was reduced to 35 pounds.
The transport was loaded and the battalion was
temporarily placed under canvas and vacated the barracks
for a new regiment to occupy. Rumours were current to
the effect that we were to proceed to Egypt to liberate
other regiments for duty in Salonica. The move was
postponed but, one morning, orders were received and at
midnight we entrained.
and left Secunderabad for Bombay. All rifles were handed
in, for they were the property of the Indian Government.
I was Orderly Officer and had plenty to do. My native
servant accompanied me as far as Bombay and shed tears at
the prospect of parting from me; this I took as quite a
We duly arrived at the port on a Sunday and the officers
arranged to spend the night in Bombay. After lunch, we
explored the town and attended a revue at the Excelsior
Theatre in the evening. Leaving this I ran into a
Guildford fellow named May, a man I had years before; he
had occupied a post in India for the past ten years and it
was strange to meet a familiar face. We chatted over old
The following day, we rose early, proceeded to the docks,
and embarked on the s.s. "Egra", of the British Indian
Steam Navigation Line (tonnage about 5,000 tons) and
anchored in the harbour. There we rode for several days
and the officers were permitted to go ashore daily and I
had several enjoyable drives in Bombay and neighbourhood.
We were allowed ashore in two parties daily; one from 10
a.m. until 2 p.m. and the other, 2 p.m. until 10 p.m.
We believed that we were ultimately to leave in a convoy
because seven similar boats were riding at anchor and
battleships were in attendance; it was understood that an
armed enemy raider was at large.
One of the men reported sick on board and died in a
short while; we did not view the tragedy as a good omen
in our fresh adventure.
A government Rick on fire. The battalion was detailed to extinguish the fire. It took three
days and nights.
Voyage from India
and service in Egypt and Palestine .
We were very comfortably quartered aboard; the food was
excellent and the band played during dinner each evening. A
cabin was allotted to each three officers and Cameron, Vize
and I were together again.
We left in a convoy and were escorted by destroyers. The
usual parades and amusements took place daily, physical
drill, false alarms, concerts, etc. We passed schools of
porpoises and flying fish and saw an occasional shark.
I took my turn as officer of the watch and during the duty I
had, throughout the night, to visit at intervals the
thirteen sentries and keep a special look out for sign of
fire breaking out aboard.
One special incident occurred during the voyage. A rumour
became current that there was a young French lady aboard,
who had been seen promenading on deck late in the evenings,
and it was understood that the Captain of the boat had, when
in port, taken pity on the damsel and had undertaken to give
her a passage to Egypt, allotting to her a cabin on the
strict understanding that complete secrecy was to be
observed or he would get into serious trouble for taking her
aboard a transport ship.
The First mate and an officer of one battalion, succeeded in
gaining admittance to the lady's cabin and were apparently
badly smitten; they gave her many presents of chocolates and
cigarettes as they vied one another in the endeavour to
capture her attentions; she only spoke broken English and
had difficulty in understanding them.
This went on for some time but, in due course, a letter from
the lady appeared on the notice board, thanking the officers
for their kind attentions and for the many presents
received, whilst expressing at the same time her regret that
she could no longer see them; she requested that they would
refrain from visiting her.
A concert was held on deck that evening and the lady duly
appeared on the arm of the Captain and occupied a chair
in the front row. We were all naturally most interested to
see her and agreed that she was a particularly pretty girl,
extremely well dressed and of the true Parisian type. She
sat and listened to the concert and smoked cigarettes
and ate chocolates.
At the interval, the bomb exploded. The Captain rose to his
feet and made a speech and informed us that as we should
soon be making port, an explanation was imperative. As we
knew, it was by now common talk regarding the presence of
the lady aboard and in order to save himself from getting
into trouble through incorrect information reaching the ears
of his seniors, he would request the lady to remove her
We were astounded to find that one of the officers had
brought aboard a complete make-up and that all had been
completely taken in, with the exception of the Captain and
another officer; they had assisted in the deception. After
the concert, tht "lady" again donned her wig and promenaded
The officer was a young man of about nineteen years of age
and was dressdd with every care as to detail, wearing a silk
dress and stockings and patent shoes. He spoke with quite a
fascinating broken accent and smoked cigarettes in a long
holder. Strange as it may appear, this officer sat next to
me in the dining saloon each day and when I spoke to him in
his disguise, I hadn't faintest suspicion; even when I knew
the truth, I could scarcely believe my own eyes and ears,
for he had studied every little mannerism of a girl.
The "lady's" two admirers received the exposure with very
mixed feelings and had to endure many digs and chaffs but
found it best to take the matter in a sporting way.
Aden was reached and the ship anchored in the harbour. I
was asleep in my bunk but awakened by the dreaded cry
"man overboard"; I pushed my head through a porthole and
just discerned a man struggling in the water.
Several lifebelts had been flung to him and he was
surrounded by them but, unfortunately, he could not,
swim. Another man jumped from the deck above and
supported the drowning man whilst a boat was lowered.
We felt very anxious because thereabouts the sea was
infested with sharks but fortunately the two men were
safely hauled aboard and none the worse for their
The man who had fallen in had been asleep in
one of the lifeboats on the top deck and, in turning
over, had rolled over the side and plunged down into the
We spent one day at that port and I went ashore, had a
look round, and witnessed a strenuous football match
taking place between the crews of two naval ships.
The following day we resumed our journey through the Red
Sea to Suez.
We unloaded the transport, paraded the men on the
quay and entrained. The men were packed into open trucks and
the officers into goods wagons; we set off on a three hour
journey into the desert and were placed under canvas.
It was extremely hot during the day but cool at night and
there was nothing to look at but sand.
Each day we were taken for a long route march across the
desert; sinking into the sand at each step made the going
extremely hard. My Company Commander and I were detailed to
make a map of the surrounding country and went forth each
morning armed with compass. Now we were on active service,
officers kit had been reduced to the minimum weight and the
balance packed and sent to our private bankers to hold
pending further instructions.
Each morning I went for a gallop across the desert on a
horse borrowed from the lines. On one occasion, we came in
for a sand storm which we could see approaching in the
distance. It came nearer and nearer, and finally we were in
the thick of it. A hot gale blew (the temperature was 120
degrees in the shade) and the sand stung the face; it was
impossible to open the eye. We kept in our tents but a
sudden heavier burst brought all the tents down. I managed
to secure a hurrican lamp which I lighted and crawled out of
the tent to try and find out how the men were faring.
As soon as I stood up, the gale blew out even the hurrican
lamp, my-eyes filled and my face was stung by the sand. I
crawled back under the collapsed tent and lay there until the
storm had passed over, perspiring profusely
the whole time.
In due course, I again crept out and found that all the
tents had been blown down, many of the articles had been
scattered across the desert, and tents and belongings buried
in the sand; we had to set to and dig them out.
Many things were completely lost and for days afterwards we
had sand in everything even our food.
After a period in this place, we went on again and I was
detailed to attend a course of instruction in the Lewis gun
at Zeitoun, a twenty minute electric car ride from Cairo. My
kit was packed and my servant and I duly reached the school,
where we were quartered in huts made from rush matting.
I proposed to have an easy time in view of the fact that I
had previously attended courses of a similar nature.
Cairo was a fine town, with plenty of amusement and
splendid shops, and I spent many very enjoyable times,
dining at Shepherd's Hotel and attending cinemas etc.
Two officers and I, one day, proceeded to Cairo the
intention of visiting the Pyramids; we chartered camels and,
accompanied by guides, duly reached them. The best known
group was that of Gizeh , which contained eleven in number
and the largest one, that of Cheops, was 450 feet in height
and contained over 80 millions of cubic feet of masonry.
They were constructed some 3,700 years B.C. Limestone was
the chief material used but large blocks of granite, each
weighing five or six tons, formed the outer casing. In all
cases, the four triangular sides were so placed as to face
the four points of the compass.
An intricate passage was left, during the raising of each
pyramid, leading to the central chamber.
They had square bases which tapered upwards to apexes.
We entered the Pyramid of Cheops and the steep
approaches inside were slopes of polished stone in
which niches, allowing just sufficient room for the toe,
had been cut; the width of the "stairway" was only about
two feet and it rose at an acute angle between the walls
which were formed by the huge stones. Our guide led and
we joined hands.
In line, we worked our way up the first "stairway" until
we found ourselves in the Queen's Chamber, which
contained an empty stone sarcophagus.
The whole procedure was carried out in pitch darkness
and when in the chamber, our guide lit a piece of magnesium
tape and we took a hurried look round. Crossing the chamber,
we came upon another steep "stairway" and again we ascended
in the dark, joined hand in hand and clambered up sideways,
until we reached the King's Chamber which was situated about
half way up the pyramid.
Another piece of magnesium tape was ignited and we once
again took a hurried look round and found another empty
sarcophagus. Needless to add, each time a light was
forthcoming, the guide expected to be suitably paid. The
pyramid was ventilated by huge shafts which had been
instituted by the positioning of the blocks of stone.
After a little while, we negotiated the steep descents and
found ourselves in the open air again but were temporarily
blinded by the glare of the sun striking down upon the sand,
after being in pitch darkness.
Close to the Cheops pyramid was the fashionable Yena House
Hotel, where we adjourned and revived ourselves with
We then returned to the pyramid and viewed the Sphinx
which was situated close by. This was an immense figure
exceeding 170 feet in length and 100 feet in height, hewn
out of rock. The body and paws were those of a lion and
the face and breast those of a woman. The shifting sands
of the desert periodically covered it and it was
necessary to clear them away at intervals.
Nearby, we went below ground into some catacombs which
consisted of caves or passages used in ancient times as
burying places. On both sides of the passages, recesses were
made in which bodies had been interred.
The inhabitants of Cairo were most cosmapolitan and
consisted of Egyptians, Greeks, French, Italians, Arabs,
etc and most of the people spoke several languages. Near
the school was an amusement park named Luna Park, which
contained a mountain railway, water chute, helter-skelter,
puzzle houses, etc. etc. and we spent many happy evenings
there and, on one occasion, met a nice Italian family and
spent some pleasing times at their residence.
Sundays were very much like week days; the shops were open
and theatres and cinemas were in full swing. On one Sunday I
went to a theatre but as the performance was conducted in
French, I did'nt appreciate it much. The wording of the
cinema films was shown in three languages. French, English
and Arabic; I enjoyed those performances because I could
understand them a little better.
We visited the Zoological Gardens in Cairo, which were
nicely laid out and most interesting.
The Egyptian women wore the yasmak, which covered the
face to the eyes; the men mostly wore European clothes
with a red fez. There were hundreds of donkeys for hire,
for this was one of the customary methods of conveyance;
several of us hired steeds and indulged in races and, on
more than one occasion, I was shot over a donkey's head
into the sand when the native running behind applied his
stick too vigorously, thus causing my steed to suddenly
stop as a protest.
Near to the school was a noted tree and well called
"The Virgin's Tree" and "The Virgin's Well". It was
reputed that the Virgin Mary had leant against the
tree and drank from the well during her flight to
Cairo with the infant Christ, at the time of the
extermination of the first borns by Herod. An English
church stood nearby and it contained some magnificent
The course completed, I entrained and rejoined the
battalion on the desert. It was exceedingly hot and
the flies were a great nuisance. We were issued with
tinted glasses, for it was reputed that it was possible
to contract sunstroke through the eyes by reason of the
glare of the sun striking up from the sand.
We left this place and marched for several miles, leaving
at 2.30 a.m. in order to make the most of the coolest part
of the day. We stayed the night at a small place and
continued the next day until we arrived at another camp;
here we spent the rest of the day and night by the side of
the canal. We enjoyed some splendid bathing.
Whilst on these marches, I had a somewhat strenuous
time; I was Lewis gun officer and responsible for the
guns and drums of ammunition which were being carried by
mules that had not been broken in thoroughly. Each mule
carried a gun on one side and drums of ammunition the
Eight of them followed the battalion on the march and,
at intervals, one of them would become restive, kick up
its heels, throw off the gun and ammunition drums, and
dash off across the desert; some of the others would
then follow the example set. We had to chase, capture,
and load them up again; in the meantime, the battalion
had continued on its way and got a long distance ahead
of us and we had to hurry to catch up with the main body
and, in the terrific heat, rejoined them in a condition
This undesirable form of exercise occurred on several
occasions and was the cause of fluent army expressions;
we perspired profusely.
In the evening, we entrained in open cattle trucks and
travelled throughout the night until we arrived at El
Arish. The smuts from the engine made us in an awful
mess, all our kit was covered with blacks and we looked
like a lot of miners; we were placed under canvas.
In turn, outpost duty at night had to be undertaken; I took
my platoon some distance from the camp and occupied a
prepared trench. Our duty was to challenge anyone
approaching the camp and to guard against a surprise by
wandering tribes, etc.
Although not such of a horseman, I used daily to take a ride
over the desert. One day, I begged a horse from the lines
and requested a quiet one, knowing full well my limited
capability. I was given a fine big horse but as soon as I
had mounted, the fun commenced. I just managed to retain my
seat but the horse reared, got the bit in its mouth, and set
off at a full gallop across the sand. I had no say in the
matter but managed to sit tight until it had tired; I
afterwards learned that the Colonel had forbidden the
Signals Officer to ride the horse, as he didn't want that
officer's neck broken. I considered I had been very lucky in
not coming to grief.
We had splendid sea bathing near the camp but had to keep a
look out for sharks. We were placed on a restricted
allowance of drinking water, one waterbottle full a day
which was always warm; we buried our waterbottles in the
sand in an endeavour to keep the water as cool as possible.
Hundreds of camels were utilized for bringing up the water
in large tanks, which were placed one on each side of their
backs; they were led by Arabs.
The food was more of the active service variety, with the
inevitable stew etc.
After a period in this place, we moved on to Ismalia for a
time. It was a charming spot where we enjoyed more
excellent bathing; a splendid club enabled us to spend
I was detailed for another course; this time in Musketry and
Bayonet Fighting; my servant packed by kit and we entrained
and duly found ourselves back at the Zeitoun School once
more. The course lasted for three weeks and the usual
lectures were attended, then the consequent writing up of
notes occupied my time.
I renewed my acquaintance with Cairo, Luna Park, and the
many amusements, and visited the Italian family who had been
so hospitable on the previous occasion. There were three
girls and two brothers and they spoke English fairly well.
On one occasion, an Egyptian friend was present (a middle
aged man) ; he was a hypnotist and soon placed the oldest
girl under influence and made her write several things. He
expressed the opinion that he could hypnotise me and, with
my permission, he commenced. He had the most penetrating
eyes which seemed to bore into one and I began to feel
myself going off, with my cheeks twitching. I mustered all
my strength of will and managed to hold out against his
influence and felt rather uncomfortable. He informed me that
he could not carry out the experiment if I willed myself
against him but that if I would relax for a moment, he would
send me off; I declined with thanks.
I obtained a "distinguished" for the course, (more
by luck than judgement) , packed up, entrained in an
open railway truck and, after being bumped about for a
day or two, reached the rail head at Bela; I had
ascertained that, during my absence, the battalion, had
moved into the trenches in front of Gaza.
I tramped up as far as the
picketed in a a gully some
and duly joined my company
transport, which was
distance behind the line,
in the trenches.
When I arrived, the Turks were shelling the firing line
with 5.9 shells and it seemed like old times to be
under fire again.
The front line consisted of built up breast works,
constructed of sandbags filled with sand, and we were
situated in the part of the line that ran down the side
of a cliff into the sea; the barbed wire entanglements
extended into the sea. The front line itself was just
beneath the crest of a small hill and the enemy could
not be seen from there.
In consequence, strong posts had been constructed, at
intervals, on the tops of small hills. These were
connected to the front line by communication trenches.
These strong posts were each held by one platoon for
forty eight hours before being relieved. From the
posts, Gaza could be seen and the Turkish trenches of
defence; we had only two lines of trenches, front line
The heat was great and nothing but sand could be seen
on our right and sea on our left; anchored off
the coast, in rear, were several monitors which shelled
the Turkish defences at intervals.
I settled down to the new life and found things far
more comfortable than those experienced in France. The
enemy only subjected us to periodical shellfire and
when quiet, conditions were quite pleasant as compared
with the incessant shelling in France, with the
additional inconvenience of the mud and filth.
One discomfort was the rationing of water and we were
allowed one waterbottle full per day; after dark, this was
brought up to the reserve line by camels led by natives.
The main supply was conveyed to the rail head in huge tank
railway trucks and was then transferred
to the tanks carried by the camels. By the time it reached
us, it was tepid; as before, we buried our waterbottles in
the sand to keep the water as cool as possible.
Aeroplanes were seen overhead during the day, sometimes our
own and, at other times, those of the enemy. On one
occasion, an enemy plane flew over our trench and performed
several loops and stunts, notwithstanding the fire of our
I imagined that the ancient battles in those parts had been
of a less noisy character than the one we now engaged in and
felt that a few Samsons would have been of assistance in
pushing over the defences of Gaza.
My application for transfer to the Royal Flying Corps was
placed before the Commanding Officer; he signed the
necessary papers and forwarded them through the usual
channels. In due course they were accepted by Brigade and
Division (75th) and I was prepared to wait for an indefinite
period before being duly summoned to the Royal Flying Corps.
The construction of breast works, necessitating the filling
of sandbags, was not welcomed by the men who had to work in
such heat. As we were in a sector so close to the sea,
parties were allowed daily to go down to the beach and
bathe. This was most enjoyable further along the coast, we
could just discern the Turks engaged upon a similar
occupation. Occasionally the bathers on both sides were
subjected to a shelling by shrapnel shells and then a
general stampede for cover took place.
A number of men were wounded whilst bathing; we had to keep
a look out for sharks and, once or twice, had to leave the
water rather hurriedly. It seemed far worse to be shelled
when without clothes, for one felt absolutely helpless and,
curiously enough, much more confidence was experienced when
I was detailed to carry out a small bombing raid and to take
over a dozen men to the enemy lines after dark. I worked out
a plan and several evenings, after dark, I set off across no
man's land to spy out the ground and to select the safest
route by utilizing any dead patches which dipped down and so
afforded a certain amount of cover from machinegun fire. On
these expeditions, I approached the Turkish trenches as near
as possible but must confess that it was not an occupation
that I would have selected for the sake of amusement.
The idea had been that of the Battalion Commander but by the
time I had got the scheme in readiness, word came through
that Brigade would not sanction the raid and so it was
We were subjected to quite a lot of shelling by "Wiz-
bangs" (18 pounder shells}, which were projectiles from
small field guns.
The shells were of great velocity, with a low trajectory,
and no warning was given of their approach; the wizz and
the explosion were practically simultaneous (hence the
name "wizz -bang") .
They had a happy knack of arriving when least expected and
caused a certain amount of amusement at times. My sergeant
often entertained me by saying, "I don't like them there
Once an orderly, carrying up a dixie of tea, scorned the
use of the communication trench and derided those who
utilized it but the unexpected quick arrival of a "wizz-
bang", which passed him with its rushing wizz to explode
beyond, somewhat upset his equilibrim and he dropped the
dixie and gazed around in astonishment. The expression
on his face made the rest of the fellows roar with
At times a group of men, when standing together, would
be surprised by the sudden arrival of one of these
projectiles and a rush for cover would take place much
to the amusement of onlookers; the remarks passed varied
with the humour, or otherwise, of the occasion.
Whilst on duty, with my platoon, in a strong post out
in front of our trench, the following incident
occurred. Although it was against orders for the
officer to sleep during the night, I had come to a
comfortable agreement with my sergeant that, in turn,
we should retire for an hour or two.
I had just dropped to sleep, when I was awakened with
the request that I would go and investigate the
appearance of a number of Turks grouped in no man's
land. I went along to the sentry, who had made the
report, and after looking over the parapet for a time,
was forced to confess my inability to discern any sign
of the enemy. I realised that the men were just from
India and had not experienced active service so
supposed that it was simply a case of jumpy nerves.
I reassured the sentries and told them to keep a good look
out, whilst I returned to my sleep, giving orders to the
sergeant that I was to be roused in the event of further
activity presenting itself.
I had no sooner got to sleep again, however, than I was once
more awakened and back to the sentries I went; they assured
me that there was a party of the enemy standing on the crest
of a hillock and I took a look through my field glasses.
It was a moonlight night and at the white sand could just be
seen a group of men. Iwondered whether we were to be treated
to a bomb raid. At that moment the telephone in the dugout
rang and I answered it; a commander of a battery of our
artillery rang up to test the line and a conversation
similar to the following, took place.
"Things quiet up there?"
"Oh yes, nothing much doing. I am investigating a small
body of the enemy gathered in front".
Battery Commander .
"Turks out in front?" "Let me send over a six inch shell or
"No thanks; it's not worth while"
"Oh do, there's a sport; I'm longing for a bit of practice".
"No; we can manage alright .
"Just one; let me know where it lands. Give me the position
the enemy" .
The Artillery usually remained quiet throughout the
nights, unless a special show was in progress, and I
wondered how our troops in the front line would feel if
heavy shells passed over their heads to the enemy. The
post I occupied possessed machineguns but orders had been
issued that they were only to be fired when absolutely
necessary, as it was desired that the enemy should be kept
ignorant of the strength of the post.
I wondered whether the present circumstances could be
termed "absolutely necessary" and so warrant the use of
Coupled with the foregoing was the insistant pleading of
the Battery Commander to be allowed to fire his guns and
so I succumbed to his request.
"The enemy is grouped on a ridge just in front of us; you
can fire one round if you like."
Battery Commander .
"Splendid; I know the spot. Tell your chaps to keep low and
(we kept low and presently a heavy shell passed over our
heads and landed out in front with a terrific crash, which
echoed through the silent night; it dropped, however, to the
right of the group of men) '
"How was that?"
"Too far right".
Battery Commander .
"Stand by; I'm going to send another",
(we waited and presently another shell went over
which, according to the sentry, landed right on the
"O.K.; it landed right on the party"
"Good; anything more wanted?"
The phone bell then started to ring again most
energetically and the Company Commander spoke from
the front line as follows
"What on earth is happening out there; are you
"Oh, yes; everything if quite OK".
"What is all the shelling about?"
"We had a bunch of larks out in front and as the
artillery had rung up to test the line, and were so
keen on firing a round or two, I reluctantly
"Well, all the men in the front line are standing to
with fixed bayonets in case of an attack".
"Everything is quite quiet now; I'll let you know if
anything occurs. Better send the army back to bed again,
I must confess that I quite expected to be hauled over
the coals, by the Commanding Officer, for playing
about with the war but realised the natural
restlessness of the inexperienced troops behind and
consious of the extreme difference between my present
experience and the past ones in France, where shells
had been fired more or less continuously throughout
the days and nights.
I was surprised, however, not to hear another word of
On another occasion, whilst on duty in an advanced
post, we were surprised at dawn by intense rifle and
machinegun fire being opened upon us and wondered
whether an attack was to take place.
We lay low and waited but when things had died down we
perceived, on looking over the parapet, that two lurks
were lying in a piece of dead ground, not far from the
post; they waved white flags and signalled us not to
Two men crawled out, whilst the rest covered them with
their rifles, and brought in the Turks who were badly
wounded. They had apparently become tired of the war
and had decided to give themselves up as prisoners but
their own people, seeing the intention, had opened
fire to prevent them being captured alive.
We put them on to stretchers and, after providing them
cigarettes, they were carried back.
Whilst in this sector, I came in for a rather unpleasant
task. During my inspection of the sentries in the front
line during one night, I came upon a man who had
apparently fallen asleep at his post.
As sentries responsible for the safety of the rest, who
were sleeping, any man so caught, if reported, would be
courtmart ialed . If found guilty, would be liable to be
shot as a penalty. I realised the seriousness of the
matter but could not bring myself to be responsible for
the consequences resulting from the man's possible
courtmart ial .
I quickly retraced my steps until I had regained the
traverse of the trench, picked up a large stone, and
threw it in the direction of the sleeping man; I then
walked back to him, making plenty of noise, and found
him awake. "Everything quiet, sentry?", I asked. "Yes,
Sir", he replied.
I whereupon chatted for a while and told him the
imprortance of keeping on the alert. I had placed myself
in an awkward position, for I dared not allow it to
become known that I had found a sentry asleep and not
reported the matter or I, myself, would have been due
for a courtmartial, even the man was not to know that I
had awakened him.
I received the following letter from my late butler in
Secunderabad, which interested and amused me -
30. 3. 1917. Trimulgherry.
With due respect and humble submission approach to your kind consideration
hoping to meet success. That is I left Master in Bombay straight, come to my
home. I could not get any job yet and also no any regiment comes yet only that
13th Combined Depot only in here at present. I send by post the photos for your
Mother address here with enclosed my testamonials in type writing because that
you gave me it is when I folding it it is make dirt. So that your honour kindly
put your initial and return to my address here with enclosed the receipt for the 3
photos and oblige. 2/ 5th Hants Butlers are all waiting for the jobs -
Lieut Vise, Sahib, Lieut Brocklehurst, Sahib, Lieut. Racine, Sahib, Abdull Butler
and Babo Butler and Thumbie, give their best salaams and respects for their
Masters. Please send me the replay Sir. I am waiting for it and oblige.
Residing in R.H,A,Followers Line,
The routine continued day by day and a raid on the Turkish
trenches was planned. This expedition was placed in
the hands of another officer and myself (by reason of our
previous experience) and we were to conduct the operation,
taking with us three other officers and two hundred non-
commissioned officers and men. I was selected to share the
responsibility and we carefully mapped out a plan of
The raiding party was sent back a short distance behind
the front line and camped on the beach for a week,
where an exact replica of the Turkish positions
(obtained from aerial photographs), was dug. Daily
practices in assault were carried out and each man made
familiar with the part he was to take in the attack, so
that in the darkness of the night he would be able to
proceed without hesitation to his objective.
Whilst undergoing this work of preparation, I had
dug a small crevice in the foot of the cliff and so made
a comfortable little dugout on the seashore, where I sat
and either wrote letters, read, or gazed out to sea,
whilst the perspiration perpetually trickled down my face.
My uniform consisted of a khaki shirt (with rolled
sleeves) , trill shorts, putties and boots, and a pith
helmet, together with a Sam brown belt carrying a revolver
with pouch of ammunition, a haversack and waterbottle.
I spent the best part of one day in my little dugout
in the cliff but went out for some dinner with my
brother officers in the evening. On my return, I
was surprised to find that the cliff had subsided and
all my belongings buried.
I realised that I had had a lucky escape and detailed
a party of men to dig out my things, which duty took
quite a long time.
Two days before the raid, the party carried out
a "dress rehersal".
At 11 p.m. we formed up and proceeded in the darkness,
half way across no man's land, took up our positions, and
then returned to reserve again. One of the officers, after
writing his Will, handed it to another to hold in case he
should be unlucky enough not to get back safely from the
The actual day of the attack arrived. We were to storm a
stronghold named Sea Post, after artillery preparation. To
the left, and just in front, was nother small enemy post
named Sugar Loaf; this had to be silenced by a small party
of men whilst the remainder advanced upon
Sea Post. On the right was a ridge called Umbrella Hill. The
raiding party was divided into two main bodies, one I
commanded whilst the other was supervised by my partner in
the scheme. Our wrist watches had been syncronised with
those of the officers of the artillery and every detail was
considered. We knew that the Turks were celebrating their
Ramadan (a Mahommedan fast) and hoped to catch them
It was a beautiful moonlight night, which only the
occasional discharge of a rifle disturbed, and
at 10.30 p.m. we left our trenches and proceeded half way
across no man's land, took up our positions and
awaited the time to attack; zero hour was 11 p.m.
The signal for the commencement of the artillery
bombardment was to be ten rounds rapid field gun fire
directed upon Sugar Loaf, to start at 10.50 p.m. As soon
as positions had been taken up, with the men kneeling in
the sand in readiness for the command to advance, I stood
up and, on consulting the luminous dial of my watch, found
that we had ten minutes to go before the fun was to
I faced our own lines and was struck by the wonder of the
night with its peacef ulness . The ten minute wait seemed
endless but, in due course, the battery of field guns
opened fire on Sugar Loaf and immediately the rest of the
hundreds of guns in the sector, of various sizes, joined
in the bombardment and wherever I looked, I could see
innumerable flashes behind our lines as the guns
continuously fired their salvos; a perfectly quiet night
was soon turned into one of fury and all the terrific fire
was directed upon Umbrella Hill, on our right, as a feint.
This hurrican of shells rained down for ten minutes and
then switched round on to Sea Pont, our objective, and we
commenced our advance. The small party on our left flank
proceeded diagonally, and silenced the occupants of Sugar
Loaf, whilst we continued until we again halted some
distance from the Turkish stronghold.
The bombardment had finished and lifted on to the enemy
reserve line to prevent him from sending up his
Directly the bombardment had lifted, the men equipped with
wirecutters ran forward and cut passages in the enemy
entanglements for us to pass through. The noise of the
bursting shells had been terrific and we had had to shout
into one anothers ears to be heard; We found our way by
picking up our bearings as the enemy trenches revealed
themselves to us by the flashes of the exploding shells.
A number of our shells dropped short of their objectives and
exploded behind us; this did not improve matters. When we
passed through the wire entanglements, we found several of
the enemy lying dead; they had Hurriedly retired from Sugar
Loaf and been caught in our barrage. We very soon occupied
the stronghold and did considerable damage to the occupants
and threw bombs into all the dugouts; many of the enemy
surrendered and were grouped together outside the trench in
readiness to accompany us on our return journey.
I carried a pick shaft in one hand and a loaded revolver in
the other; my pockets were filled with bombs. I stood on the
top of the enemy trench, directing operations, whilst the
men disposed of the occupants in the authorised manner.
We met with very little opposition from the Turks; we had
previously received instructions not to bring back more
than about a dozen prisoners but to exterminate as many as
possible during the short time we were to remain in
the enemy trenches.
Most of them had been driven into the dugouts by the
bombardement and our men went up and down the trenches
throwing bombs amongst them. It was an absolute slaughter
and I hadn't the heart to take an active part in it . I
wandered into one dugout and collected one or two souvenirs
to take back.
During the raid, I experienced one of the narrowest
escapes of my war service. I was standing on the top of
the Turkish trench, directing operations, when on turning
round, I saw one of the enemy a few paces away with his
rifle presented at me; I was so surprised that I simply
stood still and waited.
A sharp click indicated that the trigger had been pressed
but either the rifle had not been loaded or the cartridge
a faulty one, for no bullet greeted me, much to my
relief. Had the rifle fired, my opponent could not have
missed me at such short distance. One of my men standing
nearby, immediately rushed forward and effectively dealt
with the situation.
After a stay of fifteen minutes, three star shells were
fired from our front line trench, as a signal for us to
return. As prearranged, I ordered a party of some twenty
men, with rifles loaded, to line the top of the front
Turkish trench to form a cover party to protect the
remainder as they passed back with the prisoners and a
As soon as the main body had passed through and were nearly
back to our trenches, I assembled the men and, after
checking the number to ensure no man being left behind, we
started on the return journey, utilizing all the dead
ground possible in order to avoid the heavy machinegun fire
which had now opened from the enemy flanks .
we duly reached the safety of our front line and sheltered
from a heavy counter-bombardment from the enemy
artillery. The prisoners were conducted to
the rear and placed in a barbed entanglement enclosure which
had been prepared for their reception. The following day, I
had to write a long and detailed account for submission to
(At a later date, a Turkish officer was captured and a
document found on him stated that the losses sustained by
the enemy during the raid amounted to some sixty in number.)
During the next few days a special look out was exercised,
as it was considered probable that the enemy would favour us
with a raid in retaliation but we were left alone.
We lapsed into the usual trench routine, with the
periodical shelling and usual fatigue work, and I was
amused by the receipt of a further letter from my late
servant in India, which read as follows:
30th May 1917 - Trimulgherry, India.
Most Honoured Sir, -
I most humbly and respectfully beg to submit this following few lines to your kind
consideration. That I am received your kind letter of the 25th May and had very much
glad about heard your news, when I leave the Master since then I was in
unemployment. The new Regiment are not come yet, here are very difficult to get gob.
The other butlers are same as me, I am very sorry about masters are in trench of Egypt.
I myself praying and worshiping the God all day and night for war are finishing soonly,
if masters come away without any wound and sick, by grace of God I shall be glad, and
but your obedient myself was in very dangerous ill for the fever and headache about last
three weeks now I am little better by grace of God and of master, if I not get any gobs
in here, I wish to go to (Bombay) for employment, Sir. Kindly tell my saladins to Vize
Shab. Cameron Shab. and to Bracklet Shab.
Sir pleasly if you give answer to my humble letter I shall give ever feel thankfull to
Your most humble and obedient servant
Thamby Kathavaroyan. Butler
R.H.A. Family Line
I still awaited orders to proceed to the Royal Flying
Corps and was impatient to gain fresh experiences.
As our recent raid had been so successful, it was
decided that a party of the Bedford Regiment, holding
the line on our right, would carry out a similar one
on he enemy trenches at Umbrella Hill.
On the night of the attack, I occupied a dugout in the
reserve line and settled myself down to await the result of
the undertaking. Our artillery opened a heavy bombardment on
the enemy trenches and the raiders went over.
Unfortunately the enemy was on the alert this time and
opened a very heavy fire upon the attackers, who suffered
heavy casualties and had to retire.
When they again reached their own trench, they ran into a
barrage of enemy 5.9 shells, which caused severe havoc and
I kept in my dugout whilst intense continuous artillery
and machinegun fire progressed. The following morning, I
witnessed the distressing result, for a burial party was
at work disposing of the remains which literally had to be
shovelled into a huge hole.
I readily realised the good fortune that had attended our
raid, in comparison with the one attempted the previous
In a few days time, I received orders to report
the training school of the Royal Flying Corps at
Cairo. I visited my brother officers to say goodbye and
bade farewell to the Adjutant, who congratulated me upon
the success of the recent raid and informed me that my
name had been submitted to Divisional Headquarters for
mention in despatches.
I proceeded to the reserve where a horse, which had
been sent up from the transport lines, awaited me; I
mounted and rode across the desert to Bela; the railhead,
here I entrained and journeyed to Cairo and reported to
the Adjutant of the school and settled myself down in my
new quarters, obtaining many notebooks in readiness no
commence my new studies .
Service in The Royal Flying Corps
(later called The Royal Air Force)
A room in the barracks was allotted me, together with
another officer, where I enjoyed the peace and quietude
after the trench routine, with its periodical shelling and
occasional trips across no man's land. j
We were kept pretty busy on the course, which lasted for a
month. The hours of duty were, - 6.30 a.m. to 7 a.m., 8.30
a.m. to 12 p.m., 2.45 p.m. to 4 p.m. , 5.15 p.m. to 7 p.m.
and after dinner, the usual copious notes to be written up.
The following subjects were taken -
Rigging - How to rig an aeroplane, i.e. the different struts
and wood used, various bracing wires and how to true up the
planes to their correct angles of incidence etc.
Engines - Three different models to be known in detail
Wireless - including sending and receiving in morse.
Theory of Flight.
Artillery Co-operation - a big subject.
Bombs - their construction etc.
Aerial Photography .
Machine-guns . - their mechanism, stoppages, etc.
A few miles distant, at Heliopolis, was a training squadron
and throughout the day Maurice Farman machines passed over
the school and I realised that if I were successful in
passing this theoretical course, I would be similarly
engaged; I endeavoured to picture my feelings when I took to
the air for the first time.
The course was of the usual hectic type, with years of study
to be mastered in four weeks but at the completion I managed
to pass the eight examinations and was duly posted to No. 21
Squadron for instruction in the practice side of the
I reported on a Sunday and received instructions to parade
at 4 a.m. the following morning, for my maiden flight. I
must confess that when I took my seat in the machine at
dawn, I felt a bit dubious and wondered how I would feel in
the air. The machine was fitted with dual control and I sat
in front of my instructor.
The machine was taken to a height of two or three thousand
feet and after a short while, during which period we passed
over the Pyramids and the Nile, the instructor asked me how
I felt and instructed me to take control and fly straight;
keep the machine from either rising or falling and, at the
same time, steer a straight course.
Under his direction I carried out my first lesson
satisfactorily and my instructor again took control of the
machine and landed.
The author in flight uniform
My lesson for that day was finished and after the other
pupils had been put through their paces, the machines
were housed in their hangars and, under the supervision
of the mechanics, we thoroughly cleaned the planes and
tested the cross bracing wires, tightening them when
A magazine was run by the Squadron, which proved
to be quite amusing. Everyone who crashed had a piece of
poetry written about him and consequent chaffing
resulted. The following are specimens -
"Seaweed" had a pet machine
Which no one else might fly,
And everywhere that Seaweed went,
He kept that Bristol nigh.
He took her for a flight one day,
Yes, right above the ground;
He climbed her several thousand feet
And flew her round and round.
And all went well, 'till came the time,
For him to wander home
He brought her humming down again
Into the aerodrome .
Then what a sorry sight is seen,
Upon her nose she ' s standing, .
The which may well explain the term.,
A perfect Seaweed landing .
(Note - An officer named Seaweed was an offender.
Bristol was the name of a two-seater fighter) .
A certain young pilot named Skinner,
At flying was quite a beginner
For he thought aeroplanes
Could be made to leap drains
'Till he found his mistake out, the sinner.
Captain Riddle, R.F.C.,
Trying to land a Bumble Bee,
Broke an undercarriage Vee
First he blamed the E.L.C.,
Failed, he blamed the landing "T"
That a dreadful liar he.
O.C. Squadron said, "Let's see,
That 's the tenth machine that he
Has destroyed so foolishly;
I shall recommend that he
Be transferred to the A,S.G".
The moral of this tale is plain
Speak the truth and shame the devil
If you 're sunnoned to explain,
Always do so on the level.
(note - Vee - shape of undercarriage.
E.L.C. - Egyptian Labour Corps.
A.S.C. - Army Service Corps.)
The following day, at dawn, I again took the air and was
instructed in doing right and left hand turns and began to
feel more comfortable. I experienced a strong inclination,
when the machine was banked at an angle, to keep myself
perpendicular instead of leaning with the plane. I was
held into my seat by a belt about eight inches in width.
After the lesson, I took my part in cleaning the machines.
I next received tuition in taking off and gliding down and
Two or three days later, my instructor took me up and
demonstrated how to take off and land. As soon as we had
regained earth, he said, "How do you feel?"; I replied,
"Not too bad". "Well", he resumed, "I'm going to get out;
take the machine up and do a circuit and landing" .
I was unprepared for such a command, as I was by no means
confident of my ability to handle the machine for I had
only received two hours instruction in all. However, I
gave a ghastly apology of a smile, swallowed hard, and
I gave a last desperate look round and taxied the machine
across the aerodrome to the corner in readiness to take off
into the wind; when in possession of the entire machine, I
sat for a few moments with the engine ticking over, feeling
desperately inefficient and not too optomistic when my eye
lit upon the large motor ambulance standing by. Its motor
running, it appeared to be gloating over the prospect of an
early opportunity to dash across the aerodrome. Purely for
the purpose of gathering up any of the pupils who might
litter up the place by depositing themselves upon the
aerodrome in an unauthorised manner.
I opened the throttle, the machine gathered speed and, after
a short run, left the ground. A quick glance round enabled
me to see a group of persons interested in my welfare and I
climbed steadily until my instrument registered a thousand
I looked over at the aerodrome longingly and felt rather
overwhelmed by the knowledge that I was entirely dependant
upon my own efforts to get down safely. After carrying on
for a bit, I again looked over the side and suffered a jar
when I couldn't see the aerodrome; in a mild panic I
searched and was relieved, shortly afterwards, to find it
still there and realised that it had simply-been covered by
the lower plane of the machine.
I was by this time getting some distance from home and
rapidly approaching the Pyramids, so decided that I
must venture upon a careful turn and get back to the
aerodrome. I speculated as to the result of my first
landing and whether a crash would result; however,
during my instruction in landing, I had noted that if
the machine passed over a certain house, situated
behind the landing ground, at a height of five hundred
feet, with the engine shut off, the plane would glide
down and land in the correct place; a lower altitude
would cause me to undershoot, whilst a higher altitude
would not get me into the aerodrome at all.
Bearing this in mind, I consulted my instrument and
found that I was fifteen hundred feet up, so I
throttled back the engine and glided down to five
hundred feet. By that time I was off my course so,
opening up the engine again, I decided to make another
Just enough bank and rudder and I was on my way again
but in effecting the turn, although I was correctly
over the house, I had somehow managed to get up to a
thousand feet again.
Another circuit of the aerodrome took place and once
more I shut off to glide down. I was filled with
excitement, for I could see that this time I would
arrive over the house at the correct height but I
rejoiced too soon. Just as I was about to glide down
and land, an instructor's machine turned in front of me
and I was put off and forced to make yet another
Each time I went round some calculation proved to be
faulty and I became more and more panic stricken,
resulting in the fact that instead of making one
circuit-and landing as instructed, I was up for thebest
part of an hour and trying so hard
to effect a landing.
Nasty thoughts of petrol running out etc. passed
through my mind and I almost wished that I had joined
the Tank Corps instead. However, in due course I
managed to pass over the house at the correct height
and, in consequence, made quite a good landing and
taxied the machine to its hangar.
I passed the motor ambulance, with its attendants, and
could almost picture fiendish expressions of
disappointment at the faces of the men, as if they felt
that they had been deliberately cheated out of their
I stepped out of the machine and felt rather proud of
myself but the gilt on the gingerbread was rather taken
off when I realised that I would have a similar ordeal to
face on the following day. One other fellow and I were
the first pupils to take solo flights, for we had only
received two hours instruction in the air.
A number of the pupils crashed on their first sole
flights, generally in landing. It was amusing to watch the
fellows make bad landings and to see the machines crumple
up; the instructors words of comment were quite an
education. It was extraordinary the number of machines
that crashed whilst the occupants only received a shaking.
Maurice Farman (Shorthorn) . Engine - 70h.p. Renault.
Cruising speed - 45 mph. A specimen of the authors first machine
I saw one machine get out of control and crash amongst some
huts from a height of about two hundred feet.
The ambulance reached the scene just in time for its
attendants to witness a head and shoulders emerge from the
wreckage and, finally, for a pupil to step out and air his
views very strongly concerning the art of flying. Some of
the landings were interesting to watch. When badly judged,
the wheels of the machine would hit the ground and the
impact would send it into the air to a height of eight or
ten feet and after a series of bounces, which gradually
lessened in height, the machine would finally come to rest
with possibly only the minor damage of a broken cross-
The pupil would then taxi the machine to the hangar and
endeavour to slink away before coming under the eagle eye
of his instructor but such an endeavour was usually
fruitless., or the offender was invariably discovered and
informed, in "useful" language, little points to be observed
in flying, especially in the art of landing a machine.
During breakfast, various experiences were exchanged.
As the days passed, I became more confident and suffered no
setbacks. One morning, whilst I was in the air, a ground
mist suddenly came up and I completely lost my bearings and
could not see the aerodrome. I came down as low as possible
and suffered a shock when a minaret suddenly loomed before
I made a sudden turn and climbed as quickly as possible;
luckily, the mist cleared after a time and I was again able
to discern the landing ground where flares had been placed
for guidance. I landed and found that all the other machines
had witnessed the approach of the mist and come down; I did
not feel too happy over the business and was glad to be back
on the ground.
I spent many happy evenings at Heliopolis Hotel where
cinema shows took place in the grounds. It was most
pleasant to be able to sit in the open at small tables and
watch the pictures whilst sipping cooling drinks.
In due course, I completed the requisite number of hours
flight on the Maurice Farman machine and was posted to
another squadron at Aboukir, a few miles from
Alexandria, for instruction in other machines.
I reported to the adjutant and was instructed to attend
at No. 22 Squadron the following day for training in
flying Avro machines. I was quartered with other
officers, in a hut situated on the fringe of the
aerodrome. There were two or three training squadrons at
Aboukir and a hundred or so officers were undergoing
instruction. A huge stone built mess was provided in
which we took our meals and a large lounge which
possessed a piano added to our comfort.
Flying commenced at dawn and continued until about
II a.m; the heat then being severe, flying was discontinued
until 4 p.m., for conditions in the air made flying very
bumpy and unsafe for beginners.
The following morning, I reported to my flight
commander and was taken up for my first lesson in the
new machine, which was extremely light and answered to
its controls immediately; a far more delicate machine
which necessitated light handling of its controls.
After practice, I took my part in cleaning the
machines with hot water and soap; for the lubricating
oil had splashed the wings and fuselages.
Aboukir was situated on the coast and the aerodrome
adjoined the beach. The railway ran from Alexandria
through the depot and special military passes were issued
to enable us to pass the control post which was manned by
an officer, non-commissioned officer and men.
In the evening, I went into Alexandria and was pleased
with the town which possessed theatres, cinemas, and a
nice skating rink. I preferred the town to Cairo.
The following day my tuition progressed until,
one day, a somewhat heated altercation took place between my
instructor (a captain) and myself. I must mention that this
instructor was much disliked by reason of his of f iciousness
and when in the air, he rarely gave instruction, in right
hand turns, as he disliked them on account of the tendency
of the machine to drop its nose through the torque of the
propeller drawing it down.
We had just landed, after a circuit, and although the
machine was fitted with dual controls, yet I was concious of
the fact that I had not been allowed freedom of manoeuvre,
for he kept a most rigid check on all my movements. I felt
that I had taken no part in the flight and a conversation,
similar to the following, took place -
"Well, you can take the machine up, alone"
"I don't feel confident yet"
"What do you mean; you have just complete the circuit and
landed the machine yourself."
"I did no such thing"
"Get out of the machine and come to my orderly room"
The conversation was then resumed in the Orderly Room.
"And so you refuse to go up?"
"Yes; I'm not going to break my neck for you or anybody
"What do you mean?"
"You have never let me have complete control of the machine
but have flown it yourself".
"You carried out the flight entirely on your own"
"I suppose I executed the steep turns over the hangars,
which got us into the aerodrome well, all I can say is that
the machine is a remarkable one, for all the time those
turns were taking place and the machine was gliding down to
land, you state that you were not taking any part in the
evolutions and feeling that I was only a passenger, I had
removed my hands and feet from the controls and so
apparently neither of us was flying the machine. It would,
therefore, appear that no pilot is necessary for this type
of machine, since it apparently takes off, flies round, and
"I'll give you another chance. We will do another circuit
and landing tomorrow and if you don't then go alone, I
shall report the matter to the Squadron Commander".
"If I do then feel-confident., I will undertake a solo
The following morning he allowed me to fly the machine
without interfering too much and I agreed to take up the
plane alone and managed a flight of forty minutes and
accomplished a good landing.
In the evenings, I generally adjourned to the roller
skating rink in Alexandria and spent many enjoyable
I progressed fairly well with my flying of this particular
machine, until one morning I received a setback. I took off
and flew straight until my instrument denoted that I had
reached a height of six hundred feet and then decided to
make my first turn.
Whilst steeply banked, the spring of an inlet valve of the
engine broke and a flash of flame came from the engine,
which was a rotary one called the "Gnome" and reputed to
possess a weakness because the inlet valve springs often
broke and the danger of fire could not be ignored. The
trouble occurred, in this instance, whilst the machine was
in the middle of a steeply banked turn and flying speed was
lost; before I had an opportunity to rectify things, the
machine plunged down in a spinning nosedive.
I gathered speed quickly as the earth appeared to rush
towards me; the spinning of the plane intensified and some
Arabs on camels, who were passing along the fringe of the
aerodrome, appeared to be wizzing round in circles.
I grasped the sides of the fuselage set my teeth, and
prepared to await the crash into the ground; I became more
and more confused and the rapid spinning made me feel
extremely sick and giddy and a hazy mist appeared before my
I seemed to be falling for hours but curiously enough,
no thoughts of being killed entered my head, although
I vaguely wondered what sort of condition the machine
and I would be in after we had embraced mother earth.
I must have become only semi-consious, for I was
brought back to reality by a terrific bump and a
scrunch of breaking wood.
I opened my eyes and found myself surrounded by
wreckage and sat for a moment, contemplating the
situation. My first thought was that I had arrived
apparently unhurt; I endeavoured to get out of the
remains but found that my legs were fixed and
interlaced in broken struts I managed to force the
struts apart and crawled out on my hands and knees.
I lit a cigarette and surveyed my latest effort and
noted that the machine was smashed to pieces, the
engine partly buried in the ground, and the petrol
tank in a collapsed state; the petrol had spread
itself over a large area of ground and I was puzzled,
to understand why it hadn't caught fire.
I had crashed behind a small hillock on the fringe of
the aerodrome and could not be seen from the hangars
where the rest of the pupils, not flying, had hastened
and closed their eyes so that they would not witness an
accident which could apparently, only result in a
In the midst of my preoccupation' I was disturbed by the
appearance of a mechanic who suddenly rounded the hillock
and looked agape at me with a white face. I asked him if
he was any good at puzzles and if so to put the pieces
surrounding me together again.
A scamper of feet proclaimed the arrival of the Flight
Commander, and others, who shouted out - "Are you
alright?". I answered in the affirmative and apologised
for the destruction of the machine. He consigned the plane
to perdition and said that as long as I was
safe, the machine could go to blazes. I suggested I be
loaned another so that I could go up again but, with a
smile, he refused. A motor ambulance and doctor had now
arrived and I was requested to lie on a stretcher and be
conveyed to the dressing station.
I was emphatic in my refusal to take a ride in so
depressing a vehicle and stated that I required no
It was thereupon pointed out that my lip and knee were
badly cut whilst my arm was bruised from wrist to
shoulder and was turning green and yellow; I had not
noticed the damages during the excitement.
I consented to go to the dressing station on a motor
tender and had my minor injuries dressed; I then
proceeded to the mess where I enjoyed a stiff drink and
entertained the fellows with popular tunes on the piano.
I was afterwards informed that my escape had been
miraculous and that nobody had expected me to survive
such a crash; every cylinder in the engine of the
machine had been smashed and the body was a total wreck.
For the next few days I was excused flying duty and
occupied my time in attending practice in artillery
co-operation, wireless, etc., reporting at intervals
to the Medical Officer for dressings and attention. On
being questioned by him as to how I felt generally, I
informed him that I was fairly fit but that the noise
of the machines passing over my hut
in some curious manner, seemed to get on my nerves in no
He stated that, in the circumstances this was quite
understandable and suggested that a short spell in hospital,
away from present surroundings, would soon put me right. I
agreed, and after collecting my kit, was taken by motor
ambulance to Ras-el-tin Hospital in Alexandria, where I
stayed for two weeks.
The first person I met in hospital, strangely enough, was
Dr Ives who had lived near to me in Southampton and whom I
had known .
After the usual greetings, he naturally desired to know the
reason for my being there and when I informed him that I
had recently crashed from a height of six hundred feet; he
instructed me to lie on the bed whilst he overhauled me,
after which he told me that there couldn't be much wrong
with my heart since it showed no apparent ill effects of
overstrain, the only thing not normal being my pulse which
was rather more rapid than it should have been.
Another coincidence, he informed me, was the fact that the
bed I was to occupy had only that morning been vacated by
Lieutenant Stevenson, another Southampton man and a brother
officer from my late regiment whom I had left at Gaza when
transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.
The hospital, which was a part of Ras-el-tin Palace,
was a most comfortable one and possessed quite a nice
dining room and lounge. The food was excellent and at
dinner we were allowed alcholic drinks.
I soon settled down to enjoy two weeks of rest
and each day I spent in Alexandria seeing the sights. We
had to be back in hospital for seven o'clock dinner, which
proved to be a handicap as we were prevented, thereby,
from attending evening performances of the theatres and
The time passed most enjoyably and, in due course, I
returned to Aboukir feeling quite refreshed and eager to
I was, however, unable to resume until I was passed as fit
by a medical board and so had to fill in the tire by
attending lectures and practices on the ground. After some
days, I duly presented myself before a board for
inspection and after being overhauled and questioned, was
informed that I would be required to attend a further
inspection at a later date before resuming flying.
My studies on the ground were resumed and as the board
would not be called upon to meet again for a week or two,
I was instructed to proceed to Heliopolis again and report
to the Adjutant of the School of Aerial Gunnery.
I packed my kit and duly commenced this new course, which
consisted of practical firing tests with Vickers and Lewis
guns. A musketry range was situated quite close to the
aerodrome and duly we carried out our tests.
One one occasion, I was standing and waiting for my turn
for gun practice when, looking into the air, I discerned
a machine performing various evolutions at a height of
about two thousand feet. I was interested in the various
stunts and horrified when a wing became detached as the
machine came out of a loop into a steep dive. The machine
burst into flares and the pilot, who jumped out, turned
over and over in a cartwheel fashion as he fell to earth.
All firing practice stopped as we witnessed the tragedy
and heard the roar of the flames as the machine hurtled
earthwards. A gloom fell upon us, for we were all budding
pilots and the incident impressed upon us at least one
calamity to be feared, viz. fire in the air.
Our exercises completed, we returned to the aerodrome
where the machine had hit the ground and found that the
propeller was still burning and the metal of the engine
in a molten state. We learned that an experienced pilot
had come down from the line to fetch the machine and that
he had taken it up to test it before flying it back. It
transpired that this particular class of machine was a
Martinside, which possessed a tail of frail structure,
and the officer had, contrary to orders, looped; in
consequence, the tail had twisted off.
I learned the lesson
future, endeavour to
that I would not, in the
stunts in any machine
Daily we were taken up in machines as observers in order
to carry out gun practice. On those occasions I occupied
the passenger seat in front and, armed with drums of Lewis
gun ammunition, was flown at a height of a few hundred
feet to the ground targets situated on the desert; we
dived on the targets whilst I carried
out the firing tests. Part II. of the course was
that of aerial fighting.
Once again I was taken up in the passenger seat but this
time, was armed with a camera.
This was a Lewis gun fitted with a roll of photographic
film, , instead of an ammunition drum, and possessing the
usual wind vane sights used in the air; another pupil was
similarly situated in a second each and, at a height of
some two thousand feet, we manoeveured around each other
for a favourable position and fired our guns; each time
the trigger was pressed, a photograph was taken. After
landing, the films were developed and the results of the
Effectively firing a gun at another machine in the
air, was not such a simple matter as would at
appear. T speed of travelling, the angle of flight,
and allowances for aiming in front so as to hit an
opposing machine, "all had to be taken into
consideration". However, I satisfactorily passed my
various tests and once again returned to Aboukir,
where I continued ground practices for a few days
and, after successfully fulfilling the requirements
of the Medical Board, was allowed to continue my
flying instruction in the Avro, which machine had
previously been, the cause of my crash.
One morning, I again reported to the much loved Flight
Commander, whose expression, on seeing me, seemed to
bear that of extreme disappointment at my having
survived from the recent speedy return to earth from the
air. After a few cheerful remarks, he said that he would
take me up for a circuit and landing and then I could go
alone and finish my time of this particular class of
Only those who have crashed from a height would realise
the extremely uncomfortable feeling that can arise at
the prospect of having to again take the air in a
similar machine and as I had only a half an hour to do
to complete my time, I was anxious to carry out a flight
and pass on to the next squadron. I duly took off, on a
hot day, and quickly realised that conditions in the air
were decidedly bumpy and, added to that, I had the
additional difficulty of having to land over the hangars
and just clear them in order to get into the aerodrome;
this was occasioned by reason of the direction in which
the wind was blowing.
I quickly rose to a height of six hundred feet and
wondered whether I would experience engine trouble, as I
did not desire a repetition of the previous mishap. With
great trepedation I banked and took the first turn
which, with relief, I negotiated safely and, on
consulting my watch, I found that I had exactly half an
hour to while away and decided that the period would not
be exceeded if I could help it.
Having successfully staggered round the circuit
and finding that only three minutes were now to elapse,
I decided to glide down and land. As already explained, this
type of machine possessed a rotary engine which was fed by
the regulation of the flow of petrol and it had to be
"buzzed" whilst gliding down by periodically moving forward
the ignition lever and so keep the propeller ticking over
and the engine from choking.
I glided down and when just over the roof of the hangar, the
engine, to my intense dismay and annoyance, suddenly opened
out again although switched off and before I knew where I
was, the machine again rose and I was forced to make another
Two or three times this occurred and each time I endeavoured
to land, the engine started off again on its own. I began to
think that a deliberate effort on the part of Fate was in
progress to prevent my getting down safely and I was afraid,
in my inexperience, to cut off the petrol supply in case I
should misjudge my glide into the aerodrome, undershoot, and
be unable to put on the engine again.
As I got more anxious each circuit I was forced to make, so
my flying became more erratic and the handling of the
machine less confident but in due course the engine behaved
itself just long enough for me to glide down and land at the
opposite end of the aerodrome to the hangars and the engine
immediately stopped. I thankfully got out of the
machine, lit a cigarette, and heaved a sigh of relief.
I consulted my watch and found that I had been in the
air for about an hour. I decided once and for all
to finish with that class of machine and vowed that
I would have nothing further to do with it. If
practicable, I would have kicked it round the aerodrome.
My "friend", the Flight Commander, had apparently seen
me land and as the engine was stopped and I could not
taxi the machine to its hangar, he strolled across and
I prepared myself for a pleasant reception. The
conversation was similar to the following -
"Well, you're down then; taxi in the machine"
"No fear; you can taxi it in yourself".
"what's the idea?"
"I've finished with the rotten thing; the switch is short-
circuiting and I had the devil ' s own trouble to get down"
"Why didn't you cut off your petrol?"
"I dared not in case I should undershoot the aerodrome; if
I had, and been unable to put on the engine again, I would
have crashed into the hangars".
"Oh, alright; turn the propeller and start the engine and
I'll taxi it and will see you in the Orderly Room.
(later in the Orderly Room)
"Well, you've finished your time on these machines and I've
signed your papers. You will now be transferred to No. 23
Squadron for flying practice on other machines; however,
you'll break your neck in a very short while".
"I'm delighted to shake the dust of this Flight off my feet
and if I do break my neck, you won't have to worry about it"
My hatred for this type of machine was by now confirmed
and I looked forward to the transfer with great eagerness.
The following morning, I reported to the new squadron,
where I was to fly BE2C. and BE2E. machines (British
Experimental) . I progressed admirably and found not the
slightest difficulty in manipulating these machines.
Flying commenced at dawn each day and continued until 11
a.m. when it finished until recommencement at 4 p.m. and
continued until dark. Several of the pupils had been
unable to master flying and, in consequence, were now
training as Observers. Periodically my turn as Squadron
Orderly Officer came along and the duties were similar
of those of the Infantry but with the addition of
inspecting the hangars to ensure that they were securely
locked at night; I had to transfer my camp bed to the
Orderly room and sleep there, and inspect the sentries
between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.
Splendid weather was now enjoyed which resembled the hot
Summer days in England. Around the aerodromes were many
date palms and the dates hung in large clusters at the
tops, well out of reach; we were supplied with luscious
specimens for dessert at practically each meal.
On very windy days, no flying was permitted as it would
prove risky to inexperienced pilots; handling a machine
under such conditions was uncomfortable, for it was
tossed about like a boat on a choppy sea.
On these occasions, studies were confined to ground work.
One morning, I carried out a cross country test. I was
given a position on a map and instructed to fly across
country, find a certain railway station, make a sketch
of it from the air and put in all the points of military
importance viz. number and kind of trains, whether under
steam, direction pointing, passenger or goods, closed-or
open, empty or full, etc.
The depot now possessed its own cinema, which portrayed
the latest films which were hired in Alexandria, and the men
enjoyed good performances which were changed twice weekly,
at a charge just sufficient to cover expenses. As the
forming of an orchestra was out of the question, I was
approached and deputed to improvise on a piano for about two
hours and a half at each performance.
I received a copy of the Gazette and thereby learned that
I could now hoist another pip on my shoulder and carry
the rank of Lieutenant.
Most evenings, when not playing at the cinema, I
spent in Alexandria, either attending shows or,
exercising myself on the roller skating rink.
It was difficult to realise the reported shortage of food in
England, for all the shops in Alexandria possessed an
abundance of everything.
I was very pleased indeed to receive a cablegram from my
parents expressing good wishes for my birthday.
A further cross country flight to another aerodrome took
place and another officer and I set off together but I lost
sight of him as soon as we were in the air. I successfully
reached my destination just in time for breakfast and after
replenishing the inner man and having a chat with some old
friends, I flew back to the aerodrome and so completed
Some time elapsed and there was no sign of the return of
the other officer and so two instructors set off in
machines loaded with cans of petrol to search for the
In due course they returned with the wanderer and it
transpired that the pupil pilot had missed his way and
continued across the desert until forced to land near a
small village through his petrol running out; the machine
was duly replenished with petrol and flown to the
On one occasion, whilst in Alexandria, I visited the
Records Office with a view to ascertaining how my late
battalion was faring at Gaza and was grieved to learn that
both my friends, Cameron and Vize, had been killed.
These were the two officers who had accompanied me to
India with the draft and Cameron had served with me in
France. Added to this, I was informed that in a recent
advance my platoon (commanded by the Sergeant since I had
left) had been deputed to assault a strong post and had
been wiped out. I realised that had I remained with the
battalion that I would have been in charge of the platoon
and probably have come to grief with the rest.
Lieutenant Stevenson, whose bed I had occupied when placed
in the care of Dr Ives in Ras-el-tin Hospital, had also
At the depot we had periodical visits from Regimental
Concert Parties, whose performances were excellent and
the casts often included peace time professional
artists. One party was named "The Defaulters".
I visited, in hospital, an officer from my late battalion
and he gave me particulars regarding poor Cameron's fate.
It transpired that one of the men in his company had been
wounded and Cameron went out to bandage him and whilst
occupied, an enemy machinegun suddenly opened fire and
riddled him with bullets.
I concluded the altitude test which necessitated flying the
machine to a height of ten thousand feet, switching off the
engine and spiralling down and landing.
It was very cold in the early mornings and during the
nights and when flying at those times, we donned
lined leather coats and gloves and wore sheeps wool
lined boots .
One morning, at. about 8 a,m., whilst in my hut I
heard the noise of a crash just outside. I called to
my companion and we rushed outside and found a machine
blazing. The heat from it was terrific and we could not
get very close; we frantically threw sand over it and
finally managed to get the flames sufficiently under
control to drag out the pupil who was so terribly
burnt that he died almost immediately.
He was a fellow named Perry and had nose dived into
the ground from a height of only about a hundred feet.
I was about to make a flight in a similar machine and
did not feel too cheery after witnessing the tragedy.
Curiously enough, exactly two weeks later another man
also named Perry, met with a fatal accident.
Daily, the machines were piled up on the aerodrome, some
of the accidents being fatal whilst others were only
minor ones, such as were caused by faulty landings, etc.
On one occasion, a fellow fell out of, his machine and
it could only be surmised that he had looped and omitted
to do up his safety belt.
Another pupil landed on the roof of a hangar, in which
the engine of the machine buried its nose and remained
in nearly a perpendicular position; the pilot was
The first day that I reported at Aboukir, I witnessed a
disturbing calamity which, at that time, did not enhance
my idea of aviation. A machine, containing an instructor
and pupil, took off from the aerodrome and collided with
another plane carrying two men; after the machines had
become interlocked, they crashed to the ground. Three of
the occupants were killed and the remaining one
badly knocked about; one of the victims had travelled
down with me from Gaza to join the Flying Corps.
On Christmas Eve, two friends and I visited the Alhambra
Theatre in Alexandria and enjoyed a really fine performance
by an English touring party called "The Scamps".
On Christmas Day, a brother officer and I visited an
Italian family by the name of Castravelli. The good folks
consisting of Father, Mother and Daughters, had prepared A
splendid time for us and a real Xmas spread was placed
before us. We enjoyed games and music and after tea, the
family and we set out for another house where a large
family party was in progress and a further Christmas
dinner had been provided for our reception, including
wines etc. After a real festive time, my brother officer
and I left at about midnight and returned to the aerodrome
by taxi .
On Boxing Day I, stayed in camp and improvised on the
piano in the evening during the cinema performance.
Flying practices were carried out on Christmas but,
fortunately, it poured with rain on Christmas and Boxing
Days and flying orders were cancelled.
Turning over in my mind previous Christmasses, I realised
that 1914 I had spent in Bedford, 1915 in France, 1916 in
India and now, 1917 in Egypt.
My next tests were successfully passed. I had to fly in
formation with other machines and then carry out the
photography test. The latter was rather difficult to a
novice, as he had all his work cut out to fly the machine
without the added difficulty of taking photographs.
A map was handed to the pupil upon which were marked twelve
points which were situated miles apart. He had to fly by
the map, pick out each point and, as it was located,
photograph it from a height of about a thousand feet. A
camera was loaded with plates and fixed to the machine and
the pulling of a string dropped each plate after a
photograph was taken, and set the shutter in readiness for
the next exposure.
Fixed perpendicularly to the outside of the fuselage was a
long metal tube, through which the pilot sighted and it
possessed cross wires at each end.
The machine had to be flown over the position to be
photographed and the pilot looking down the tube, waited
until the cross wires were in line with the object; the
string of the camera was pulled and the photograph taken.
Care had to be observed that the machine was flown directly
into the wind, otherwise in approaching the object, drift
was experienced and instead of the plane passing right
over, it would leave the object on its flank.
Generally several attempts had to be made before the sights
of the tube could be brought into direct line with the
object and the novice often allowed his machine to turn or
bank whilst concentrated upon his test. He thereby found it
impossible to photograph the object.
The next test was that of bomb dropping.
This was carried, out by means of a camera obscure, in which
the instructors sat and watched the course of the machine
undergoing the test. The pilot, once again flying dead into
wind, utilized his bomb sight which had beer adjusted to
requirements, height, wind velocity, speed of machine, etc.
having been taken into consideration.
Then over the camera obscura the pilot wirelessed down a
letter "T" (a dash in morse) , and after five seconds, sent
another "T"; the instructors were then able to denote
whether a bomb would have dropped on the object. I had to
have two attempts at this test before passing
In my spare time, I often wandered about the coast
and, on occasions, found old coins and pieces of
We received the disturbing information that all our
Christmas mails had gone to the bottom of the sea as
the ship on which they were being conveyed had been
Having now flown these types of machines for some
hours, I was quite confident in their manipulation and
rarely went up without taking a passenger with me who
was anxious to joyride. Many officers and cadets who
were commencing their training as pilots, were only
too eager to go up. On one day I had good fun. A
Canadian officer, who had not yet been in the air, had
boasted that he could not be in any way disturbed by
any evolutions that might be made.
Hearing of this, I casually asked him if he would care
to go up with me for a short flit. He readily
consented and I took off and rose to about two
thousand feet; I shut off the engine and turned to my
passenger and enquired whether his safety belt was
To my surprise, he looked at me with a rather
uncertain expression and replied that he was safely
strapped in. I put on the engine again, dived steeply
and looped. Resuming straight flying, I stalled and
allowed the machine to go into a spinning nosedive. I
again glanced at my passenger's expression and noticed
that he had turned a bit white and looked by no means
After doing a few cartwheels in succession, I glided
down and landed. We stepped from the machine and I
noticed that the Canadian looked none too confident;
he did not again venture the remark that he could not
be disturbed by stunt flying.
The final test was duly carried out, that of Artillery
Co-operation. A short distance from the depot a dummy
battery of guns was stationed and at a position in tie
far corner of the aerodrome, was an object upon which
imaginary artillery fire was to be directed. Ghese
positions were marked on the map carried by the pilot
undergoing the test. All messages were carried out in
code and sent from the air by wireless in morse.
As soon as the machine had reached its requisite height,
when the pilot had located the target, he wirelessed to
the battery, whilst flying towards it ' "Are you receiving
my signals?" and waited for a ground signal to be exposed
These ground strips were made of white linen and positioned
to represent various letters viz. "L2 might mean "Yes" or
"K", "No"- and soforth. Under service conditions, a pilot
when patrolling a certain sector of the front, would
possibly spot a target (such as a battery of guns, moving
troops, etc.) upon which he desired to direct suitable
artillery fire. Each of the batteries of our artillery
possessed its own code calling up sign, e.g. 60 pounder
battery might be "B.E.", a six inch howitzer battery,
"R.N.", etc. and according to the type of gun it was
desired to engage, so the pilot would utilise the necessary
code letters to call up the requisite battery.
In addition to this, each machine had its code number so
that the battery would know the flight carrying out the
shoot. As soon as the pilot had received the signal that
his own signals were being received, he wirelessed the
position of the target, which he had worked out from his
map, and this message he repeated and followed it up with
the coded question - "Are you ready to fire?". An example
of the routine is as follows (ficticious code letters are
Are you receiving my signals
Answer - ground strip, letter "L2" - Yes
Position of target P64L39
This last message is repeated and followed by
"Are you ready to fire?" - "M"
The complete message - ABlRNP 64L3 9M
Battery answer - L.
The shoot then commenced. The pilot flew towards the
battery and wirelessed the order to fire, turned and
flew towards the target to observe the burst of the
exploding shell. His next duty was to send down the
correction, preceeding this with the code prefixes. For
the purpose of such correction, an imaginary clock face
was, drawn round the target, with twelve o'clock due
North, calculated by reference to the machine's compass.
Imaginary circles were pictured at various distances
from the centre, viz. first ring 50 yards, second one, a
hundred yards, third two hundred and fifty yards, etc
and called A.,B. and C, etc; the position of a bursting
shell was calculated thereby. For instance, a shell
exploding fifty yards North of the target would receive
a correction 12A, or if to the east, 3A, and a pilot
sending a complete correction, including code prefixes,
would transmit AB1RNL2A.
When the burst had been observed, the pilot turned the
machine, flew towards the battery whilst the correction was
wirelessed, and repeated the order to fire; this continued
until a direct hit was obtained.
At times, the pilot was called upon to carry out
a shoot with two batteries upon different targets, which
duty was by no means an easy one; the bursts of two lots
of shells had to be observed and corrections sent down
with the code prefixes of the various batteries being
utilized. During such operations, the pilot was
generally subjected to anti-aircraft fire from enemy guns
and in addition, had to be prepared to resist an attack
by enemy machines.
My test, under practice conditions, having been successfully
passed, I was now transferred for experience in flying
R.E.8. machines (Reconnaissance Experimental), which when
loaded, weighed about two tons. I liked these planes and
took every opportunity of flying them, especially in the
evenings when, with a passenger, I would often ascend and
witness the setting of the sun. Flying in the evening, when
the sun was going down, was ideal; all was peace in the air
and not a bump disturbed the flight which resembled the
gliding of a boat on a lake.
I continued my flying of these machines for several days
and, on one occasion, received instructions to take up the
Squadron Photographer to a height of 12,000 feet so that he
could photograph the depot. This he did and an enlargement
brought out every little detail, which spoke volumes for
the wonderful camera lens .
About this time, I heard of the death of Lieutenant
Beddy, who left the Hampshire Regiment at Gaza in
order to transfer to the Flying Corps; he had been
killed in a crash. His transfer took place at the same
time as my own and his demise rather forcibly brought
home to me the fact that any connection with me seemed
to have fatal results, for Gyatt who joined the
Seaforths with me and proceeded to France, was dead,
whilst both Cameron and Vize, the officers who
accompanied me in India to join the Hampshire
Regiment, had also been killed.
I now completed my training and awaited notification
that I was considered to be a qualified pilot and could
have the much coveted wings sewn upon my tunic. Usually
a newly qualified pilot was allowed several weeks flying
at the base in order to gain further experience before
being posted to a service squadron.
One morning, much to my consternation, an orderly
approached me and stated that my presence was required
in the Orderly Room. I rather wondered how or when I had
transgressed and hurried into the presence of the
Squadron Commander, where a conversation similar to the
following took place -
"I want you to hurriedly pack your kit and proceed to
No. 14 Squadron which is on service in Palestine. I am
very pleased with your reports and as several casualties
have recently occurred, I am eager you catch a train
which leaves in two hours time".
"But I haven't received my wings"
"Never mind. I'll sign your pass out certificate and you
can sew your wings on your tunic when you get in the
To be perfectly candid, I rather wished that I not
progressed in my flying quite so satisfactorily, for I
had rather hoped to have had a few weeks extra
experience before taking an active part with a service
However, having no say in the matter, I duly boarded the
train and whilst happily sewing on my wings, dubiously
pondered on the likely results upon the war by the entry
of my humble self, suffering from no inconsiderable
inferiority complex in so far as this particular branch
of the service was concerned; in other words, what would
my future squadron think of my efforts?.
I broke my journey at Kantara, slept the night at the
Y.M.C.A quarters and, the following day, attended a
performance in a rough and ready cinema. Resuming my
journey, I found it most interesting, for since I had
left Gaza, our troops had advanced into Palestine; the
railway had been laid and I passed through Gaza and over
the actual ground where I had taken part in the
successful raid upon the Turkish trenches.
I was disappointed in Gaza itself but liked the country
further on. I duly arrived at Ramleh and reported at Wing
Headquarters, stayed for lunch and continued the journey
by motor tender to No. 14 Squadron. I was enabled to
enjoy luscious oranges obtained from the orange groves
The aerodrome was situated near to the Mount of Olives
and not very many miles from Jerusalem. The
personnel were quartered in bell tents which each
possessed an electric light, the current for which was
generated by the motor workshop lorry. A large tent was
used as a mess and lounge and arrangements were
comfortable; a gramaphone played merrily as I entered and
pilots and observers sat around, either talking or
reading and sipping drinks.
I very soon made myself at home and found the Squadron
Commander and the rest of the fellows excellent
companions who greeted me in a most encouraging manner.
The machines used were of the B.E. and R.E.8. types,
which I considered would cause me little difficulty in
handling, as I had enjoyed flying them under training
Things were very quiet on the front, for the advance had
been completed for the time being and the Squadron had
lapsed into its ordinary routine work of artillery co-
operation, photography, and occasional bombing
expeditions. Certain duties of flying were allotted and
when performed, pilots and observers travelled, in turn,
on the motor tender to Jerusalem, for relaxation and to
As this Squadron was known as a bombing and reconnaissance
one, it was not expected to engage enemy aircraft in
fights, for the machines were heavy, slow, and not
constructed for quick manoeuvre; other squadrons of swift
single seater scouts protected our machines from surprise
whilst engaged upon their duties.
I soon settled down in my new surroundings and made some
Until fairly recently, the enemy had exercised
superiority in the air by possessing machines far
more efficient and speedy in manoeuvre than ours
and, in consequence, our losses had been rather
disturbing, for whenever one of our planes had flown
over the enemy lines on observation work, it had
been attacked and when the pilot had managed to get
back to the aerodrome without being shot down he
considered himself fortunate; in such cases, he had
to put up a running fight .
A squadron situated near to us recently became
possessed of a number of up-to-date Bristol two-
seater fighters, which each possessed a 350 h.p.
Rolls-Royce engine. These machines were very speedy
and capable of quick manoeuvre and one of the pilots
(with an observer) decided to set a trap for an enemy
It must be explained that this type of machine
somewhat resembled that of the slow B.B, type, when
in the air, and as the enemy had no knowledge of our
recent welcome acquisition of the fast Bristol, the
pilot took off and throttled back the engine
sufficiently to permit the machine to fly level at
its slowest speed.
He flew up and down over the lines and, sure enough, am
enemy two-seater "Albatros" soon spotted him and,
thinking that another slow B.E. was to be an easy
victim, flew in the direction of the British machine
with a view to diving upon it and shooting it down
The pilot of the Bristol saw the enemy coming but did
not deviate from his course and so allowed him to
approach as near as possible compatib with safety. He
then opened his engine to its fullest, dived, looped,
and completed a circle which brought him on to the tail
of his enemy and in an admirable position for opening
fire. The enemy pilot and observer were amazed, they had
no idea that such an efficient machine operated on the
front and they did their utmost to shake the pursuer off
their tail by executing every manoeuvre known to them,
but without avail.
The pilot of the Bristol made no attempt to open fire
with his machineguns but was content to enjoy the
discomfiture of his enemy who, now thoroughly scared,
shut off his engine, glided down, landed on our
aerodrome, and surrendered without even putting up a
fight. The Bristol landed by its side and the pilot
censured the enemy, in very strong language, for not
having the courage to make any show of a fight.
The captured machine was duly flown back to Cairo by one
of our pilots.
The daily duties consisted, for the time being, of
reconniaissance and photography, and the hours of flying
were not heavy as no advance was taking place. A pilot was
not called upon to do more than three hour flight a day and
the machines took their turn, the first one taking off just
as dawn was breaking.
It was a wonderful sight to see the sun rise whilst
engaged upon these early patrols.
When a reconnaissance flight commenced at 4.30 a.m.,
the pilot was back and had landed on the aerodrome by
7.30 a.m., and after writing his report, during the
quiet times, was finished for the day unless an
unforeseen further duty was ordered. On these
occasions, some pilots when awakened by their batmen
and handed early morning cups of tea, would don
cardigans and leather flying coats over their
pyjamas, pull on their long flying boots, carry out
the patrol flight, and then return to bed.
When taking off, the machines had to rise to two
thousand feet before leaving the aerodrome and climb
as they passed over the high hills in enemy country;
on the tops of the hills were posted machineguns which
could prove troublesome.
One of the machines, whilst returning from a patrol,
encountered a thick mist and, in descending to find
direction, collided with the top of the Mount of Olives
and the plane wrecked and both pilot and observer
On certain days, when it had poured with rain,
considerable difficulty was experienced in getting the
machines to rise from the sticky aerodrome and after
taking the longest run permitted by the size of the
aerodrome, they had to be literally heaved off the
Nothing of special interest occurred and the daily
routine flights over the Jerusalem district and the
enemy country took place.
I had unfortunately only been with the Squadron for
a week or two when I contracted a rather bad attack
of Psoriasis of the scalp and, upon consulting the
Squadron medical officer, whom I had asked to
supply me with suitable ointment, was informed that
his limited medical supplies would not permit him
to complete treatment of the complaint.
In consequence I would have to be sent down the
line. I expressed my unwillingness to leave and
stated that I would prefer to leave the matter
over; however, presumably, he spoke to the Squadron
Commander about the matter and he, in turn,
summoned me to his tent and after a chat, strongly
advised me not to neglect the trouble but to go
down the line and receive expert attention.
The present service conditions experienced, in
comparison with those of an infantry officer in the
line, presented an extraordinary difference, in as much
as the latter 's daily routine was a matter of grim
warfare only, whereas the former's conditions afforded
considerable opportunities for relaxation and something
approaching more comfortable amenities of existence.
Once again I packed my kit and duly reported at a field
hospital a few miles from the aerodrome. Here I stayed for
one night and the next day left, in a hospital train, with
my head covered in ointment and enveloped in bandages. I
travelled for a considerable number of miles until I reached
El Arish and there entered the Military Hospital.
This time my head was lathered and shaved, more ointment
applied and further bandages. I stayed here for several days
during which time I enjoyed several concert party
performances and as no progress was evidenced, I again
packed and was despatched by train to Kwatara where I
entered another hospital. Once again my head was shaved and
a different treatment tried but no improvement was achieved.
Kantara was a huge depot and swarmed with troops
proceeding to and from the line. Whilst wandering around,
I chanced upon an old Guildford friend named May, who had
been a Special Constable with me in the early part of the
Curious to relate, although throughout the war I only
encountered two Guildfordian friends, one was this fellow
and the other his brother whom I met when leaving a
theatre in Bombay. We were naturally delighted to see one
another and had several chats over old times.
He was serving as a noncommissioned officer in the Army
Service Corps .
Whilst in hospital, I was nicknamed "Baldy", through my
head having been shaved. We had quite good times and
played games; I became quite expert at Ping-pong and
other "strenuous" games and indulged in further
dissipation by having my breakfast brought to me in bed.
In the afternoons I generally hied myself to the Y.H.C.A
which possessed a lounge and I passed the time in piano
playing, reading, etc; by this time I was thoroughly
enjoying the war.
After a few days, it was decided that I must go down
to a base hospital and so once again I entrained and
finally found myself back in Ras-el-tin Hospital in
Alexandria and occupied the same ward as I did on the
occasion of my crash.
As I had been on the move for some time, my letters from
home had followed me around and accummulated and one day I
I remained at this hospital for some time and a
certain amount of progress took place, although in my
own opinion I was not sure that the treatment given
was correct. Sufficient to say, I became bored with
the existance which was only lightened by a visit of
inspection by H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught, who walked
in the gardens and chatted with us .
As an improvement had taken place with regard
to my head trouble, I prevailed upon the Doctor to
supply me with a pot of ointment and to permit me to
return to Aboukir for instructions to rejoin
my squadron in Palestine. As soon as I had returned and
reported to the Depot Medical Officer, he examined me and
insisted that as a cure had not been effected, that I
must return to Alexandria to another hospital where he
would arrange for me to come under the care of a
I was becoming heartily sick of being experimented upon
but had no option other than to again pack and be
conveyed by ambulance car to this new hospital;
fortunately I soon recovered under expert treatment. This
hospital was known as No. 19 General Hospital.
I again returned to Abopakir, where I awaited Headquarter ' s
permission to resume flying, which was to be of a graduated
kind by reason of my lack of practice whilst in hospital for
the past weeks . I duly received orders from the Squadron
Commander to resume flying in R.E.8 machines and informed
that I would shortly be required to act in the capacity of
Instructor in the Air with these machines.
I was definite in my expressions of unwillingness to act in
that capacity and told him that I would much prefer to
return to my Squadron in Palestine.
It was most enjoyable to be once again in the air, after
the long rest. Since I had left the depot a great deal
of fear regarding the flying of R.E.8. machines had been
occasioned amongst pupils, I was given to understand, by
reason of the fact that one or two fellows had been
killed whilst attempting solo flights and, in
consequence, a general feeling of nervousness had arisen
and lack of confidence, which resulted in accidents,
mostly of a minor character and caused by faulty
landings which resulted in undercarriages being
At times all the machines were crashed and flying could
not be resumed until repairs had been carried out and
those pupils responsible for the damages were ordered
to assist the mechanics in their restoration work as a
As the days went on I witnessed the results of several
Having once again become infused with confidence in the
air, I enjoyed daily joy rides, taking with me each time a
passenger, until finally I received orders to report to the
Flight Commander of a Flight stationed at Aboukir and known
as "The Submarine Flight" newly formed.
Recently two large boats, (one of which was the "Aregon"
on which I had voyaged from South Africa to India) , had
been torpedoed a few miles out from Alexandria and as an
important personage in the Flying Corps (or Royal Air
Force as now known) had been submerged in the sea for
over an hour before being rescued, he had immediately
caused the flight to come into being as soon as he had
I reported to the flight Commander, Captain Laing, M.C.,
and was introduced to other pilots - Lieutenants Vincer,
Woods, Harper, Thompson and Blackmore; I shared a tent
with the latter officer and we became fast friends and
stayed together until the Armistice.
I learned that our duties were to fly to the harbour in
Alexandria and, in conjunction with the Navy, escort
incoming and outgoing convoys of ships at times stated
over the phone in code.
The duration of these flights lasted something over three
hours each and we were rarely required to do more than one
per day. (On one occasion to escort two convoys, I was up
for three and a half hours, returned to the aerodrome,
took another machine and completed a further length of
time of similar duration) .
I became convinced that that under existing conditions
the War was quite passable and felt that my present
occupation would suit me admirably until the cessation
of hostilities! All the members of the flight were
splendid fellows and we were a happy party.
Our patrol work was carried out on land machines and we
wore lifesaving coats to keep us afloat in the event of
the machines being forced to come down in the sea
through engine trouble. To each machine, before flight,
was fitted a 112 pound bomb, which could be dropped
either to explode upon impact or act as a depth charge
by having a delay action of a few seconds to allow it to
sink before exploding.
The routine was as follows. A telephone call from a
branch of the Navy would state AZOBSmilell . 30 - meaning
that an outgoing convoy was to be met at a buoy
situated five miles out to sea from Alexandria, and
escorted through a certain channel which had previously
been swept by minesweepers to ensure that no mines had
been laid by an enemy submarine, for a
distance of about thirty miles out to sea. Two pilots
would then be detailed to take up their machines in time
to fly to Alexandria Harbour (some miles away) and so be
at the rendezvous at the correct time.
As soon as the machines were in the air, aerials were
unwound from the revolving drums, and allowed to trail
behind, being kept, down by lead weights. Messages -
"Are you receiving my signals" (sent with the usual code
prefixes etc.) having been answered by the depot
wireless station with the ground letter "K" (meaning
"Yes")", the machines left to perform their work.
Flying along the coastline, they duly appeared
over the harbour and once again the coded question "Are
you receiving my signals?" was wirelessed down to a naval
motor boat, whose duty it was to escort in rear of the
convoy for as long as the machines were present, to
receive the wireless reports. The required answer - "K" -
having been displayed on the motor boat deck, the convoy
set off to sea whilst the two aeroplanes flew up and down,
one on each side, and the pilots kept a keen look out for
any sign of enemy submarines. The machines did not carry
observers and in each of the passenger seats an additional
petrol tank had been installed to permit them to remain in
the air for something over three hours at a stretch.
When this convoy had proceeded for some thirty miles
seaward, one of the machines signalled to the other
that it was time to return to the aerodrome by
firing coloured Verey lights from a pistol. Each
pilot then wirelessed "C.I,"' (which meant "going
home") to the naval motor boat.
During these escort duties, pilots subconciously listened
for any sign of irregularity in the running of their
engines and periodically consulted their instruments for
any sign of a miss in the engine which would be
registered by a swing of the pointer. On the other hand,
when the engine ran consistently;
any sign of trouble would cause the pilot to wireless at
once "C.I." and turn for the aerodrome.
These flights, being carried out at the low height of
about five hundred feet and for a distance of some thirty
miles out to sea, necessitated careful attention to the
engine, for the machines were not constructed in order to
land, on water but were primarily for use on land.
Precaution against coming down in the sea had to be
Prior to my joining the flight, a machine had to land in
the sea and the pilot was drowned. Before landing on the
aerodrome, after duty, the long aerial had to be rolled
back on to its drum by hand. This operation took some
little time and, on occasion, a pilot would forget and all
spectators standing on the fringe of the aerodrome would
duck their heads to avoid the lead weight at the end.
Naturally the aerial was torn away when landing and a new
one had to be installed. Caution had to be exercised in
letting out the aerial when flying, to prevent the drum
from rotating too quickly, otherwise the jolt at the end
would tear it off and the pilot would be compelled to land
to have a further one fitted.
Many of the flights were timed to take place at 11.30
a.m. and lasted until about 2.30 p.m.; I had a locker
fitted to my machine in which I stored sandwiches and
drinks in order to appease the inner man on those
We had our own little aerodrome and were quartered
comfortably two to a large tent on its fringe; the
machines were housed in a large hangar.
I hired a piano in Alexandria and had it placed in my
tent; we enjoyed many sing songs and musical evenings. We
also possessed a good gramaphone with plenty of records.
I now sat at the Staff table in the mess and enjoyed the
use of the private lounge and hard tennis courts; daily
we played tennis and life was ideal, except for the fact
that pupils training with the various squadrons
periodically crashed on our aerodrome or nearly landed on
We were accepted as honorary members of the Sultan
Hussein Club, Mohammid Ali Club and Union Club in
Alexandria; the former two were most exclusive and I
spent many enjoyable times watching the members, who were
most cosmopolitan and comprised Frenchmen, Italians,
Greeks, Egyptians, etc, gambling with cards for huge
stakes. When in Alexandria, I usually took meals atone or
other of these Clubs.
Periodical turns of duty as Flight Orderly Officer had
to be undertaken and on these occasions the officer on
duty was instructed to sleep in his clothes at night in
the Orderly Room (a converted large aeroplane case) to
be in readiness to take the air if informed by
telephone of the appearance of a Zeppelin. A visit by
an enemy airship was deemed possible however, we were
never troubled by such visitors.
Some nights we were ordered to fly over the town of
Alexandria for the purpose of reporting any over
exposure of naked lights, which might act as a guide in
the event of hostile aircraft paying a visit.
During a day escort, I experienced a bad attack of sickness
and after carrying on valiantly for two hours, was forced to
wireless down that I was returning to the aerodrome. I was a
considerable number of miles out at sea at the time and
conditions in the air were very bumpy and only those who
have experienced bad seasickness would appreciate my
feelings of complete disinterestedness in life, with an only
desire to be relieved of all responsibility at any cost.
I simply flew for home with my head over the side, caring
little what the machine did and, in consequence, it
performed several minor evolutions on its own when freed
from my restraining guidance, with the result that I had to
muster sufficient interest and intelligence to correct it.
The journey was a nightmare, likewise the glide into the
aerodrome, but I managed to make a presentable landing, more
by luck than judgement.
I just had sufficient strength to crawl to my tent, throw
myself on my bed and lie there whilst the universe returned
to a steady condition and the haze removed itself from my
I must have been out of condition and did not fly
again for a couple of days until I had by then
I now became acquainted with several families in
Alexandria and so was never at a loose end for
somewhere to go in my spare time. Some of these
people met us in the afternoons, at the Sporting
Club, and we played many games of tennis on the hard
The depot possessed a Concert Party called the "Canopies"
and I fulfilled the part of pianist. Several evenings
during the week we visited, by motor tender, the various
large camps in and around Alexandria and gave shows . On
certain occasions we performed at the Alhambra Theatre to
packed houses, the audience comprising civilians and
military. The latter included members of the Higher.
We possessed two kinds of costume dress, that of the
pierrot and the other, a white mess kit with the short c
I derived great pleasure from this new hobby, which took
up quite a lot of time in the learning of new items,
rehersing, actual performances, etc.
One day, whilst on patrol work, my engine suddenly
stopped without any preliminary warning. I hurriedly
glanced around for a possible place to alight and as I
was not far from land, decided to try and get down
without receiving a ducking. I glided towards the coast
and just managed to have sufficient height to enable me
to do a flat landing in a salt lake adjoining the beach
at a place called Mex near Alexandria.
As soon as the machine alighted, it sank in over the
wheel axles in salt. I had landed close to a camp of a
British West Indian Regiment and the Colonel invited me
to dinner whilst a number of his men were detailed to
salvage the machine from the salt lake and convey it to
the hard ground of the camp. I turned the machine into
the wind and roped it down, phoned to my Flight
Commander to send a motor tender with the Flight
Sergeant to effect the necessary repairs, and adjourned
to the mess to be supplied with many drinks by the
officers who had been interested in my forced landing.
We spent a most convivial evening together and I
borrowed a cardigan and a scarf from the Colonel;
during my flight I had only worn a shirt, shorts,
stockings, white canvas shoes and; the usual life
saving coat, together with a leather flying helmet and
The magneto trouble was soon remedied and the
machine flown back to the aerodrome early next
On several occasions, during escort duty, the machines
instrument indicated that the engine showed signs of
unreliability and hurried efforts were at once made to
get back to the aerodrome before serious trouble develop
For the next few months I was engaged upon this work
and spent my spare time in either playing at the depot
cinema, taking part in concert party work, or amusing
myself in Alexandria.
Occasionally I took up a pupil for instruction in the
Whilst at Aboukir, I met a fellow whose home was
in Winchester but he had been in business at Guildford
for some years. His name was Alexander and he was an
extremely nice fellow who had, before the War, been a
member of a Guildford Football Club in which I figured
and we had played together on many occasions. He had come
to the depot, as a cadet, to train to be a pilot.
We were delighted to meet again and enjoyed several
pleasant evenings together; at the end of the day he
would wander across to my tent for a chat and a smoke. He
was a very steady chap and, in conversation, impressed
upon me the fact that he intended to take no more
liberties in the air than would be necessitated by his
training, for he realised that many accidents had
occurred through the carelessness or over-confidence of
In view of this, it will be realised that I suffered a
considerable shock, on returning to the aerodrome at a late
hour one evening, when I learnt that a fatal accident had
occurred and that my friend had been one of the victims.
It transpired that whilst he had been engaged in the practice
of formation flying with other machines, that another pupil
(who was flying a single seater scout machine) had
manoeuvred around the formation and, in a spirit of
mischief, dived upon the tail of that of my friend with the
intention of getting as near an possible; he had misjudged
the distance and collided in mid air.
The two machines had become interlocked and had crashed into
the sea from a height of several thousand feet. The body of
the pilot of the scout machine was found but that of my
friend was missing for several days before being washed
ashore. Notwithstanding his intended caref ullness, his death
had been caused by the foolishness of another.
My chum Blackmore duly celebrated a birthday, and,
after installing a quantity of drinks in the tent,
invited several friends to spend the evening. The
piano was kept going and songs and choruses sung until
When at last the party broke up, I came in for an
unusual experience which rather annoyed me. Most the
time the fellows wined rather freely and one of the
members of the Flight had taken exception to a
personal remark made to him by the Flight Commander.
This pilot had also partaken of drink rather in excess
of that warranted by his capacity and, in consequence,
when I got him on to his bed in the tent, the trouble
commenced. He commented freely and in strong language
his opinion of the Flight Commander and, as a remedy,
desired his immediate extinction. Fumbling amongst his
kit, he produced a service revolver which he loaded
with ammunition, got to his feet and staggered towards
the tent entrance.
I called to another officer and together we threw
ourselves upon him and, after a struggle, wrestled the
revolver away; this manoeuvre caused the unkindly
gentleman to consign us to perdition. For some time I
had to watch over the offender whilst he, finding his
means of opportunity for bringing about the demise of
the Flight Commander frustrated, conceived the notion
that mankind was definitely plotting against him and
decided that his own appearance on earth was
superflorous so that his sudden decease was essential.
With this decision firmly fixed in his mind, at
intervals he rose from his bed and dashed out of the
tent and across the aerodrome, with the intention of
throwing himself into the sea to commit suicide.
On, each occasion I tore after him and, after a
struggle, managed to get him back to his tent. After a
few chases I began to tire of the business and am
afraid that I rather debated in mind whether I would
let him throw himself into he sea and risk the chance
of the ducking to set him right; in any case, I would
be able to get to bed for a much desired sleep.
However I kept guard over him until he ultimately went
to sleep amid the Flight Commander never knew of his
This same officer was due to fly his machine on escort
work in the morning and accompany, the Flight Commander
(Who was to fly another machine) but when he awoke, the
effects of the night had not worn off and he muttered
threats of ramming the Flight Commander's machine so that
they both crashed to earth; we managed to keep him out of
the way and another pilot deputised for him.
When, at a later date, I informed the offender
of the occurrence, he professed entire ignorance of
the matter and that he had not the slightest
recollection but added that he was not surprised;
insanity was in his family and his Mother had been
consigned to an asylum.
One evening I returned to the depot at about midnight
and, on entering my tent, found several visitors
drinking and talking in an atmosphere reeking of tobacco
smoke. After the usual greetings I disrobed and got into
bed and soon after getting to sleep, I was roughly
roused and requested to take office at the piano. I am
afraid that I was rather irritable in my replies and
settled down to resume my broken sleep; the fun then
Up to this time proceedings had been quietly conducted
but things, began to warm up, for several of the guests
contracted a playful desire to give vent to their
general elation by hurling empty bottles through the
air. I kept low in bed and hoped for the best while, at
intervals, a bottle would sail over my head, pass,
through the tent opening and crash to pieces against the
side of the orderly room hut.
This little pleasantry proceeded for some while and
until the ammunition had become exhausted; during the
lull, I ventured to raise my head but quickly lowered it
again when I saw a fellow raise a hurrican lamp above
his head and, after whirling it aloft, released it and
allowed it to sail gracefully over my head, pass through
the tent opening, and shatter itself outside.
Peace reigned once more and I continued my sleep whilst
those of the rest who possessed motor cycles, amused
themselves by racing about the aerodrome.
Early the next morning a curious spectacle presented
itself, for the guests of the night before were
deposited about the aerodrome in sleep and one
slumberer had even lodged himself in sagging top of a
The days followed each other and brought with them the
usual routine work, with periodical relaxation, until we
were warned that the whole Flight was to be transferred to
Port Said and, in due course, the hangars and tents were
struck and, with the rest of the stores, packed and loaded
in readiness to be transported by rail.
At an early hour we flew in formation from Aboukir to Port
Said, each machine carrying a mechanic as a passenger, and
followed the coastline the whole way. We reached our
destination in something under two hours and, shutting off
our engines, glided down to our new aerodrome. Here I
experienced my second crash, fortunately of a minor
character. When nearing the ground I noticed that an
electric cable, supported by high poles, suddenly appear in
my line of descent.
I pulled up the nose of the machine in an effort to rise
over it but in so doing, lost flying speed and the machine
sank like a lift and pancaked on the aerodrome. The
undercarriage was telescoped, a wing, damaged, and the
propellor shattered; luckily my passenger, occupying the
front seat, suffered no injury. The machine was repaired in
a day .
Adjourning to the mess, I met the officers of
the Kite Balloon Section, with whom we were from now
onwards to co-operate. We were attached to No. 209
Squadron, which comprised seaplanes and captive
balloons. The aerodrome, which was situated on the opposite
side of the canal to Port Said, was small and lay by the
side of the sea; not far distant the seaplanes were
stationed. Pending the arrival of our tents from Aboukir,
we stayed for a few days at The Marina Palace Hotel which
overlooked the canal .
The first day of arrival, after a general look round, I
decided to visit a large Armenian Refugee Camp situated
about two miles away and set off, with another officer,
for this purpose. When about half way to our destination,
we chanced to look back towards the aerodrome and were
curious to witness two of our machines taking to the air
but, concluded that the pilots were simply carrying out
Returning to the aerodrome in the evening, we were
informed that an outgoing convoy had been attacked by an
enemy submarine; three of the ships had been sunk whilst
the remainder had turned and scurried back to port and
This attack had been carried out insight of land and the
ships had been sunk in shallow water; their funnels
and masts could be seen above water. The machines had
been ordered into the air to search for the submarine but
no sign of the enemy was evidenced.
As our bombs had not arrived from the previous base, the
only action that could have been taken would have been to
wireless back to Navy House information to assist
the naval ships.
In due course our stores and tents arrived
and we settled-down to resume our escort work; this was
carried out in conjunction with the seaplanes and balloons.
Two seaplanes escorted a convoy for an hour or two and
until relieved by two of the land machines; a captive
balloon, anchored to a trawler, also accompanied the
convoys and Japanese destroyer were at times in attendance
To visit Part Said, we had to charter a native
boatman to row us across the canal. Situated close
to the aerodrome was a large building belongingto
the Suez Canal Authorities, which
had been converted into a hospital and was staffed
by Australian nurses; dances were sometimes held there.
We were very disappointed in Port Said which was dirty
and uninteresting after Alexandria. It certainly
boasted two or three fine hotels which included the
Eastern Exchange, Casino Palace, Marina Palace, etc.
and one or other of these supplied us with relaxation
in the form of a game of billiards or a dinner and
As time progressed, I became acquainted with several of
the civilian residents and spent some pleasant musical
evenings in convivial company.
A certain amount of excitement prevailed when huge
cases arrived which contained new and up-to-date
machines to be assembled and flown by the Flight. These
were D.H.9 machines (de Haviland) .
I applied for a weeks leave which I decided to spent in
Alexandria. Luckily the previous evening to the day my
leave was to commence. A Bristol fighter had been flown
over from Aboukir and as it was to return the next
morning, I packed my kit and accompanied the pilot. He
was glad to have the company of a passenger. The flight
took little over an hour and was far more pleasant
travelling than would have been the case had I
undertaken the several hours railway journey.
Sitting muffled in my British warm and flying at a
height of about five thousand feet, I felt so cold
that my teeth chattered and I began to wish that I
had garbed myself in leather flying wings.
We appeared over the aerodrome at Aboukir and,
without warning, the pilot commenced a few stunts,
finally putting the machine into a spinning
nosedive. I experienced considerable difficulty in
retaining my seat in the machine, for I was not
strapped in by the use of a safety belt. I felt
myself sliding up the side of the fuselage and
wondered when I would be hurled out.
I grasped the sides with both hands and held on
tightly. The thought passed through my mind that if
a bad loop followed, I would stand an excellent
chance of falling out. As soon as the pilot had
straightened the machine after the spin, I slapped
him on the back and yelled to him not to loop, at
the same time pointing to my waist to indicate that
I was not wearing the safety belt. He nodded in
answer and we glided down and landed.
I proceeded by train to Alexandria and, after booking
my room at the Majestic Hotel, settled down to enjoy a
good leave by visiting my civilian friends and
attending various, entertainments. Two amusing
incidents occurred during the week.
The usual iniquitous system of tipping existed
and a departing guest from a hotel always found a long
line of expectant servants to see him off.
I overhead a discussion on this subject taking place by
some officers staying at the hotel and a Major laid a
wager that he would leave the hotel the following
morning without once tipping; he won his bet in the
following manner. After his kit had been packed, he
rang for the "boots" to convey it to a waiting taxi, at
the same time requesting that the servants be sent to
his room. They entered, full of expectation, and the
Major left the room on some pretext and, closing the
door, locked them in.
Taking the hey with him, he proceeded to the waiting
taxi and, after seating himself, instructed the
"boots", to fetch a case which he stated he had left on
his dressing table, and handed him the key of the room
wherein the servants were locked. As soon as the
"boots" had departed upon his errand, the Major drove
Returning to my room one evening, I was surprised
to see a number of empty bottles and used glasses lying
around; I rang for a servant and had them removed.
This happened on two occasions and then I called for my
bill on leaving, I was astounded to notice the rather
large amount charged for drinks and, as I had partaken
of no meals at the hotel, other than breakfast, I
concluded that a mistake had arisen. After an
altercation with the head waiter, I called for the
Manager and demanded an explanation.
I was promptly informed that my brother, a Captain, had
called on two occasions, with friends, and had told the
Manager that I was quite, aware of the situation and
that drinks were to be provided in my room and charged
to my account. I had difficulty in impressing upon the
Manager the fact that I had no brother and duly left
after flatly declining to pay the extra amount.
At a later date, I ran into a friend named Hunter (with
whom I had shared a hut at Aboukir at an earlier date)
and he, with a smile, asked how I had enjoyed my stay at
the Majestic Hotel. I challenged him regarding the
drinks and he confessed, with glee, that he had entered
the hotel with some other fellows, looked down the list
of residents in the book, and posed as my brother; the
result had been apparently entirely satisfactory in his
At the termination of my leave, I returned to Port
Said and resumed duty.
I was detailed, with my friend Blackmore, to take
charge of a firing party and had to supervise a
military funeral and the burial of two deceased
patients from the Australian Hospital.
On one occasion, a party of Australian soldiers
desired to be rowed across the canal but the native
boatman, usually suspicious of Australians, at first
refused to bring his boat to the side. He later
decided to do so but by this time the soldiers were
angry at the hesitation showed and immediately they
were able to set their hands upon the boatman, they
threw him into the canal, rowed the boat across and
made their victim swim behind.
I was amused, one day, by the expression on the face
of a native driver when he returned to his conveyance
and found that, during his absence, some Australians
had taken out the horse and reharnessed it in the
reversed position, with its tail between the front of
Once or twice, whilst engaged upon convoy work, the
engine of my machine showed signs of giving out but
each time I managed to get back to the aerodrome
safely. On one occasion, when in the air and it was
raining hard, I saw below me and to the left, a storm
in progress. As I gained height I passed through the
clouds into glorious sunshine and could see vivid
lightning playing in the clouds below.
To the left, a huge water spout appeared to extent
from the sea to the clouds.
Various rumours had reached our ears concerniag the
cessation of hostilities and at five minutes to
eleven in the morning of ths 11th November 1918, no
confirmation had come through and I was sitting in my
machine, with bomb attached and the engine ticking over,
in readiness to take to the air on convoy work at 11 a.m.
Just as I was about to leave the ground, a messenger
hurried across the aerodrome and informed me that
instructions had been received by telephone from the
Squadron Commander that the Armistice was to commence at
11 a.m. and that all flying was cancelled.
At that moment all the ships in the port proclaimed the
glad tidings by blowing their hooters and everybody
dashed around cheering and shaking hands .
My machine was wheeled back to its hangar and, with
two or three other officers, I took the Fight tender and
drove it up and down the road whilst the other officers
fired coloured Verey lights from pistols. We then
chartered a boat and were rowed across the canal to Port
Said, where we mingled with the excited inhabitants. In
the evening troops paraded the streets singing popular
songs, laughing and joking.
From now onwards, very few duties were performed but we
occasionally flew to neighbouring aerodromes and visited
friends for a drink and chat .
The names of those who had served in the East for more
than twelve months had to be submitted for transfer to
home establishment and we patiently awaited orders to
I was ordered to sit at a court of enquiry with two other
officers, to investigate the crashing of a seaplane into a
breakwater. Each morning a motor launch picked me up and
conveyed me to headquarters where the enquiry took place.
This went on for several days and we had to examine the
statements of witnesses and finally submit our findings.
The days passed and on Christmas Eve I celebrated by
visiting some French friends where I spent a jolly time
and returned to camp at about 3 a.m. On Christmas morning,
the officers of the Balloon Section and my Flight
challenged an equal number of noncommissioned officers and
men to a fancy dress football match. I made myself up to
resemble an Arab and my friend Blackmore was dressed as an
At a previous date, a golf course had been laid out around
the aerodrome and during the afternoon we played several
rounds. At 6 p.m. came the event of the day - the Christmas
dinner; a splendid spread with plenty of champagne was
provided and many toasts were drunk, the most popular one
being "to those at home" .
Adjourning to the ante-room, we had a sing-song and a mock
band, consisting of various improvised instruments and
conducted by an individual with a burnt cork moustache and
wearing a military cap caused much amusement.
Boxing day morning I went to Port Said to do some shopping
and, in the afternoon, sports for the men were held on the
aerodrome. Many civilian friends were invited and given tea
In the evening a concert was held in the mens large hut,
where a well lit stage had been erected and painted scenery
and a drop curtain provided. As usual, I was called upon to
officiate at the piano. So terminated the festive occasion.
I still awaited orders to entrain for Alexandria to embark
for home and on one occasion actually took my seat in the
train but was recalled to camp by a messenger who informed
me that a mistake had been made.
On New Years Eve I was invited to the house of some friends
and assisted in singing out the Old Year, returning to camp
at about 4 a.m.
I did very little flying and only went up occasionally to
keep in my hand. The formation of a Concert Party was
discussed and I was approached to carry the idea into
Now and then our civilian friends from Port Said visited us
and took tea in our tent.
On these occasions a general tidying up took place, so much
so that for some time afterwards we could not find our
things and it seemed much handier to have our possessions
scattered about the tent.
In due course I received orders to report to the Squadron
office and embarked at Port Said on s.s. "Kaiser-I-Hind" (P
& 0 line) for home. The ship carried a large number of
nurses and, in consequence, all cabin accomodation was taken
and the officers had to sleep on their camp beds between
decks. We reached Marseilles and were placed in an
encampment of huts for a week.
When we landed in France the ground was covered in snow and,
in the mornings, ice had to be broken in order to get water
for washing purposes. I nearly shivvered myself to pieces
after spending three years in the East .
During the stay in this town, I amused myself by exploring
and attending theatre shows.
We continued our journey across France by hospital train and
had comfortable bunks in which to sleep but the weather was
very cold. We reached Cherbourg and embarked on a cross-
channel steamer, arriving at Southampton on the 1st
Here I telegraphed to my parents and proceeded by fast train
to London and from there, by another to Guildford. I
thoroughly enjoyed the journey and feasted my eyes upon old
familiar sights, anticipating with enjoyment my return home
after the years spent abroad. As I walked up the road in my
home town my feelings became more indescribable andd it
would be impossible to portray my condition of mind at the
reunion with my parents.
We sat until late talking and, after a wonderful nights
rest, I rose with the realisation that the war was over and
that soon I would be my own master. I breakfasted and
proceeded to London, where I reported at The Air Ministry,
and was allowed two weeks leave.
This period passed very quickly in visiting my many friends
and enjoying myself and I wrote for an extension which was,
I again reported at The Air Ministry and was informed
that I had been posted to a squadron in England. I
again applied for an extension of leave, which was once
more refused, and in consequence of this, I stated my
desire to become demobilised which; after some discussion,
I proceeded to another room and received my papers of
discharge and was permitted to wear my uniform for one
more month and to receive pay during that period.
So my experiences in the war ended. I enlisted on
ythe 12th September 1914 and finally discarded my
uniform on the 9th March 1919.